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Reasons for the population increase have not been offered, but a look at some positive developments in the community might help explain it

Crook County is once again one of the fastest growing counties in Oregon and the fastest growing in Central Oregon during the past year.

The county's estimated population, according to Portland State University's Population Research Center, is 25,482, after a gain of 616 people — or 2.48% of the previous population. Only Morrow County gained a greater percentage of new residents (3.42%), and while Crook County's Central Oregon neighboring counties both ranked in the top six, Deschutes only grew by 2.07% and Jefferson County added 1.37% more people.

City population increases were not ranked, but Prineville has reached a record high, with the 2021 population eclipsing 11,000 for the first time with 11,042. Local residents who have lived in Prineville since the housing boom of the early 2000s decade might recall that the community surpassed 10,000 only to see the population drop back to four digits during the recession.

Reasons for the population increase have not been offered, but a look at some positive developments in the community might help explain it. One noteworthy point is that Crook County has managed to weather the COVID storm well compared to other communities. The Crook County School District was able to provide in-person education for much of the school year when other locations were offering online education for most or all of the year. This seems to have contributed to a high rate of students poised to graduate in the traditional four-year window. According to an Oregon Department of Education report, the local high school and school district overall ranked higher than all its Central Oregon peers and much higher than the state average.

The local economy has likewise shown greater resiliency than other locations in Oregon. Crook County is one of a small number of counties that actually have more jobs than they did before the pandemic.

Damon Runberg, Central Oregon's regional economist for Oregon Employment Department, pointed out that construction and information technology are two of the strongest performing industries, along with professional and business services. And the primary catalyst for the job growth, Runberg said, appears to be the ongoing presence of the Facebook and Apple data centers.

It is also worth noting that for the past few years, Prineville has been upgrading what it can offers its residents. The community welcomed a new elementary school and new hospital in 2015. The community added a new jail in 2019 and most recently, voters approved a bond measure that will fund a criminal justice center.

All of this is taking place at a time when community leaders have committed to adding park space, bike and pedestrian trails, and other quality-of-life focused projects like the community splash pad.

There is probably no way to directly correlate these changes to Crook County and Prineville's growth rate, but one could easily make the argument that this community has a lot to offer and has found ways to set itself apart and draw new residents.


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