Grand Rapids area leads in Michigan's population growth

Christine MacDonald
The Detroit News
Grand Rapids' population was 200,217 as of last summer, an increase of 1,135 residents.

Grand Rapids and its surrounding suburbs led much of the state's growth last year with the West Michigan city surpassing the 200,000 population mark for the first time in the yearly U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

The figures released Thursday show Grand Rapids' population was 200,217 as of last summer, an increase of 1,135 residents. And its surrounding communities saw significant gains, including Algoma, Byron, Allendale, Georgetown and Grand Rapids townships.

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"The city of Grand Rapids is very healthy in terms of its trajectory," said Aaron Renn, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute who has compared it with other mid-sized Midwestern cities. "It's really a region that is doing well."

The metro Grand Rapids area has nearly 1.07 million residents, gaining 37,967 in the past five years. 

Detroit's population, meanwhile, continued to drop, but the losses were small compared to past years. The city's population was 672,662 as of last summer, a loss of 1,526. The previous year's loss was 2,695.

"The lessening of the decrease is important," said Eric Guthrie, the state's demographer. "When you are steering a big ship, it takes a little bit to turn it around."

And experts caution that the estimates are less reliable the farther away from the decennial census, which is when the bureau performs an actual headcount and will be performed in 2020.

For yearly estimates, census officials take into account new housing permits and demolitions, and those may not be the best measures in Detroit, said Kurt Metzger, a demographer and director emeritus of Data Driven Detroit and mayor of Pleasant Ridge.

Detroit remains the nation's 23rd largest city, and its loss was lower than others: Baltimore lost 7,346 residents, Chicago 7,073 and St. Louis 5,028 in the latest estimates.

The increase of residents in Grand Rapids Township isn't surprising to Michael DeVries, the supervisor of Grand Rapids Township, which saw its population grow by 238 residents to 18,602 last summer. 

The township saw its first apartment complex, at 280 units, open up last year in response to the demand for housing. 

"There's a shift going on," said DeVries, who is also the chair of the Grand Valley Metro Council, a partnership of local governments in West Michigan. "The city of Grand Rapids has seen a huge influx of apartment buildings." 

Algoma Township, a rural area about a half hour drive north of Grand Rapids, has 12,452 residents, a gain of 614 last year. New housing is going up in these outer ring suburbs in part because land is cheaper, DeVries said. 

Metro Detroit's biggest gainers were once again mostly suburban townships: Macomb Township at 90,758, Canton Township at 93,018 and Novi at 60,951.

Nationally, cities in the south and west saw the largest increases. Only one Midwest city was in the Top 15 of gainers. Columbus, Ohio, increased by 10,770 residents.