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Wyoming's smaller and more rural cities increased in population while two biggest cities decreased

J. Stephen Conn
Flickr via CC BY-NC 2.0

Recently released data from the Wyoming Department of Administration Information’s Economic Analysis Division show two thirds of the Cowboy State’s communities over 2,000 people experienced growth from July 2021 to July 2022. But the two largest cities, Casper and Cheyenne, both decreased in population during this period.

“Small and rural counties increased [in] population, and for Wyoming, more rural and small counties, small cities, increase[d in] population,” said Wenlin Liu, chief economist with the Economic Analysis Division. “Wyoming employment has always been a driving factor for our migration trend, again that's before 2020, but since 2020, COVID started that trend shifted. So that's why in 2022 it's like almost two thirds of the 30 largest cities or towns in Wyoming added residents from July 2021 to July 2022.”

Of these communities, Mills experienced the largest growth rate at 4.4 percent (188 new arrivals) followed by Star Valley Ranch, Lovell , Afton, and Buffalo. Gillette added the most residents with 277 new arrivals, followed by Sheridan and Mills.

Additionally, several communities lost population during this period. These include Kemmerer, Bar Nunn, and Evansville. Jackson lost the largest amount of people with about 171 leaving.

“Many people move to these rural areas from bigger cities, they choose to move to areas with less populated areas and somewhat less cost for these small rural towns. Again, that's a nationwide trend,” Liu said. “That COVID trend seems to [be] continuing in Wyoming, but for the rest of the nation, the trend continues but somewhat slowing down, somewhat going back to the pre-COVID level, pre-COVID trend.”

Liu expects that the rural population growth rate will slow in the future and return to pre-pandemic levels. In addition to the trend of smaller areas growing faster than larger ones, there’s also been an uptick in the number of retirees arriving in Wyoming.

As of July 1, 2022, Wyoming’s overall population grew 0.3 percent from 2021 to 2022, but the combined population for the state’s 99 cities and towns grew only 0.1 percent during this time.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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