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St. George is the nation's second-fastest-growing metropolitan area, the Census Bureau says.

With a 2003 population of 104,000, up 15.2 percent since 2000, the St. George area was second in growth only to Greeley, Colo.

The Census Bureau defines a metropolitan statistical area as a region containing at least one urbanized area of 50,000 or more people. The report released today focused on growth estimates from 2000 to 2003.

A new feature of the report since 2000 are micropolitan statistical areas, which are similar to metro areas, but the anchor city has a population between 10,000 and 50,000.

The Heber micro area (Wasatch County) was also the nation's second fastest-growing, up by 15.1 percent from 2000 to 2003 — second only to Palm Coast, Fla., which grew by nearly 25 percent.

This is also the first time that St. George and Logan have met the Census Bureau requirements to be classed as a metropolitan area.

Twelve of the 20 fastest-growing metropolitan areas were located in the West.

Greeley, about 60 miles north of Denver, and its surrounding area grew by 16.8 percent to 211,000 people. Las Vegas ranked third, with a growth rate of 14.6 percent.

Robert Spendlove of the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget said the metropolitan area information is interesting but "we don't use it that much" in deciding federal or state funding.

"It's kind of interesting," Spendlove said. "It's not as big a deal as some of the other" census information.

Spendlove noted that it may have some meaning for Logan and St. George. Neither city has a population over 100,000 by itself, but both metro areas' 2004 estimated populations neared 110,000.

And that's important, he said, because many firms tend to use the 100,000 population benchmark before they'll invest in a community.

Regional economist Lecia Parks Langston said population growth is spurring most of the economic expansion in Washington County and that trend is likely to continue.

Residential building permits rose 28 percent in 2004, she said, while the value of those homes increased 60 percent. Retail sales in Washington County also rose by more than 20 percent between the first quarters of 2004 and 2005, she said.

Utah's existing metropolitan areas have all been shaken up. The Salt Lake-Ogden metro area has been split up. Weber County is now part of the new Ogden-Clearfield metro area, along with Davis and Morgan counties.

The Salt Lake metro area now includes Salt Lake, Tooele and Summit counties. It's the state's largest metro area by far, with a population of just over 1 million, according to census population estimates for July 1, 2004.

The Provo-Orem metro area used to only include Utah County, but has added Juab County.

U.S. Census Bureau spokesman Mike Bergman described the changes as a "statistical update."

Since the 2000 Census the Office of Management and Budget has been doing a lot of work revamping the definitions after a series of hearings across the country, he said.

Spendlove said the prior organization was strange to some who questioned whether Ogden had more in common with Salt Lake City than did Provo.

In the case of the Logan metro area, it may seem strange for a metro area to extend across state lines, Spendlove said, but he noted that Kane County was at one time part of the Phoenix, Ariz., metro area.

Nearly 90 percent of Utahns live in one of the state's five metro areas, and six percent live in micro areas, according to July 1, 2004, population estimates.

Nationally, about 83 percent of the nation's population lived in the 362 metropolitan areas, and about 10 percent lived in the 573 micropolitan areas.

More than one-half of Americans lived in metro areas with populations over 1 million in 2003.

Americans have been moving south and west for decades, with a big jump in population in the South, starting in the 1970s. Still, the West continues to outpace all other regions.

According to the 2000 Census, population in the western United States grew by 19.7 percent in the 1990s, followed by the South with 17.3 percent more people. The Midwest and the Northeast posted single-digit increases in population.

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Contributing: Nancy Perkins, Deseret Morning News; The Associated Press