Image: New York skyline
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The 23-county New York City region, which spills over into Long Island, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, had 18.8 million residents in 2005, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
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updated 6/7/2009 12:02:41 PM ET 2009-06-07T16:02:41

Projecting population growth is as much an art as a science — and often an inexact art at that. But it still offers an interesting, useful and provocative view of the future.

That’s why bizjournals is issuing its own population projections for the nation’s 250 largest metropolitan areas, looking as far ahead as 2025.

Bizjournals analyzed recent county-by-county growth patterns within each state, and then used that information to predict metropolitan growth at five-year intervals between 2005 and 2025.

No one can foresee all of the economic twists and demographic turns that the coming two decades will bring, but bizjournals’ projections suggest a range of intriguing possibilities. Here are 10 of particular interest:

1. New York City will retain first place
New York City will retain first place by a comfortable margin.

The nation’s largest metropolitan area is the 23-county New York City region, which spills over into Long Island, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. It had 18.8 million residents in 2005, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. No. 2 Los Angeles was far behind at 12.8 million.

Los Angeles is growing more rapidly than New York, but not fast enough to close the gap appreciably. The two giants will still be separated by 5.8 million people in 2025, when New York has 19.8 million residents and Los Angeles has a shade more than 14 million.

2. Houston and Atlanta will climb into the top six
Houston was the nation’s seventh-largest metro in 2005, and Atlanta was No. 9. Both will be moving higher in coming years.

Houston is projected to shoot up to fifth place by 2025, adding almost 2.6 million people to reach a population of nearly 7.9 million. Atlanta is ticketed for sixth place at 7.3 million.

The top four metros, by the way, will maintain precisely the same order over the 20-year period: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas-Fort Worth.

3. Detroit will drop out of the top 10, with Phoenix replacing it
Detroit and Phoenix are two of the most economically troubled areas in America today, but their future prospects are considerably different.

Detroit is the only metro expected to slip from the top 10 during the next two decades. It’s projected to fall from 10th place in 2005 to 14th place in 2025, losing 59,500 residents during that span.

Phoenix, on the other hand, is likely to bounce back strongly from its current problems. Its projected 2025 population of 6.9 million will elevate it to seventh place, up from 13th in 2005.

4. Raleigh will set the fastest pace of any metropolitan area
The three-county Raleigh metro will virtually double its population during the study period. It had 953,000 residents in 2005, but should be closing in on 1.9 million by 2025.

That’s an increase of 97.7 percent in 20 years, which equals an annual growth rate of 3.5 percent. No other metro will expand as rapidly.

Five other areas are projected to increase their populations by more than 80 percent between 2005 and 2025. They are, in order of growth rate, Provo, Utah; Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla.; Ocala, Fla.; Austin; and Port St. Lucie, Fla.

5. 18 areas are expected to lose at least 5 percent of their current populations
The biggest declines are projected for two metros along the Gulf of Mexico — Gulfport, Miss., down 23 percent, and New Orleans, down 19.3 percent.

Both areas were devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. That damage affected their projection formulas, which were based on population trends from the past decade. It remains to be seen if the two metros will suffer long-term drops or will eventually recover from their short-term losses.

Most of the other projected decliners are industrial metros with fading manufacturing sectors such as Youngstown, Ohio (down 15.6 percent between 2005 and 2025); Buffalo, N.Y. (down 9.7 percent); and Cleveland (down 8.9 percent).

6. 7 metros currently in the top 50 will climb at least five places, led by Austin
Raleigh barely missed the top 50 in 2005, ranking 51st in metropolitan population. It’s projected to reach 38th place by 2025.

Austin is the only top 50 market that will match Raleigh’s upward mobility during the 20-year span, climbing 13 notches from 38th to 25th.

The runners-up among the top 50 will be Las Vegas and Charlotte, rising 10 places to 22nd and 27th respectively. Orlando will improve by nine places, and Jacksonville, Nashville and Phoenix will gain six each.

7. Cleveland will fall the farthest of any metro currently in the top 50.
Cleveland, with more than 2.1 million residents, ranked a respectable 23rd in 2005.

But the long-range outlook is gloomy. Cleveland is projected to lose 189,000 people by 2025, pushing its total down to 1.93 million. It will consequently plummet 14 places to 37th in the national standings.

Other major drops will be suffered by New Orleans (down 12 places), Pittsburgh (down 10), Buffalo (down eight) and Rochester, N.Y. (down seven).

8. 8 metros will join the million-plus club between 2005 and 2025.
Two have already crossed the line, with Raleigh’s population reaching 1 million in November 2006 and Tucson following suit in September 2008.

Next up is Fresno, Calif., which is projected to hit seven figures in April 2015. It will be followed by Bakersfield, Calif.; Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla.; McAllen-Edinburg, Texas; Albuquerque; and Tulsa.

The latter is expected to hit 1 million in July 2025, just a few days after its projected July 1 population of 999,753.

9. A few others will reach higher population milestones
Ten metros are projected to pass the 2 million mark during the 2005-2025 period. Four areas will top 3 million, and three apiece will zip past the 4 million or 5 million thresholds.

Chicago will reach the most dramatic milestone of all in February 2020, when it hits 10 million, joining New York and Los Angeles as the only metros with eight-figure populations.

10. Some smaller places will move rapidly up the charts
Gainesville, Ga., and Ocala, Fla., will never be mistaken for major metropolitan areas. They collectively had just 466,000 residents in 2005, and they’ll remain well short of a million by 2025.

But both will make considerable progress in the population standings, climbing 50 places in 20 years. Ocala will jump from 151st place in 2005 to 101st in 2025, and Gainesville will soar from 233rd to 183rd.

Five other areas will gain at least 40 positions: Kennewick, Wash.; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Port St. Lucie, Fla.; and Prescott and Yuma, Ariz.

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