The U.S. Census Bureau population estimate that was carried out July 1 will likely reveal that Meridian has officially crossed over to having more than 100,000 residents.
The popular and fast-growing city could already be there. Based on the Census’s 95,623 estimate in July 2016 and the local COMPASS population estimate of 98,300 on April 1, Meridian has probably crossed the 100,000 threshold.
The Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho, which tracks Treasure Valley population statistics for local governments, noted a 6,880 person increase in Meridian since April 2016. At that rate of 18.8 new residents per day, Meridian passed 100,000 on July 1. That’s also the birthday of Meridian Mayor Tammy de Weerd, who recalls serving 42,000 residents when she was first elected in 2004.
“I couldn’t have fathomed that,” de Weerd said about reaching 100,000.
Carl Miller, COMPASS’s principal planner and population tabulator, would rather calculate growth with 9.1 new residents per day since 2010, which conceivably welcomes Meridian’s 100,000th resident on Oct. 7.
Meridian’s neighboring city, Nampa, is growing fast as well. Miller estimated Nampa’s population at 96,820 in April and the Census in July 2016 tallied Nampa at 91,382. Miller foresees Nampa hitting 100,000 on Sept. 13, 2018, couching the dates for both cities with “not guaranteed.”
If they reach the 100,000 mark, Meridian and Nampa will be only the second and third Idaho cities to do so. Boise hit 100,000 around 1979. And Idaho may not see a fourth 100,000 city for decades; Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Caldwell, Coeur d’Alene and Twin Falls are clustered between 60,000 and 48,000 residents and have nowhere near the growth rate of Treasure Valley cities.
Meridian and Nampa take different roads to reach 100,000
Meridian in 2016 was the 13th fastest growing city in the country among cities with at least 50,000 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It has been landing on national lists for fastest-growing cities for several years; a few times, it has been ranked No. 2 for its growth rate.
Nampa and Meridian are neighbors, but each is reaching 100,000 residents for different reasons, according to a recent neighborhood housing index produced by ATTOM Data Solutions, a multi-sourced national property database.
ATTOM analyzed more than 5,000 U.S. ZIP codes, including 20 in the Treasure Valley, and assigned a neighborhood quality letter grade for each ZIP code. The grade is based on home price appreciation, unemployment rate, environmental hazard risk, and property tax rate, with double weight for school scores, crime rate and affordability. Two Meridian ZIP codes received the only A grades in metro Boise and three Nampa ZIP codes got the lowest grades in the region, a letter D.
Nampa’s lower home prices are spurring some of its growth. The median price for a house is $90,000 more in Ada County, where Meridian and Boise are located, than in Canyon County, home to Nampa.
“Meridian is in the center of the market,” said Mike Christensen, a retail broker at Colliers International in Boise. “In Nampa, a lot of that (growth) comes from affordability.”
Meridian, Nampa, Boise and, in northern Idaho, Coeur d’Alene draw many people who have quality of life as a top priority. Ada, Canyon, Kootenai and tiny Teton counties all have far outpaced the growth rates of Idaho’s other 40 counties since 1990, said Ethan Mansfield, research manager at Boise Valley Economic Partnership.
“Starting in the ’80s and ‘90s there was this idea of amenity migration,” said Mansfield. “You’ve seen the economy has turned a corner. The type of work has changed.”
An economy reliant on logging and agriculture has widely broadened to services, technology, office, construction, much of it supplanting Treasure Valley agricultural land. The land is now the site of housing for west Boise, Meridian, Nampa, Caldwell and Kuna, Eagle, Star and Middleton.
Bruce Chatterton, Meridian’s community development director, cited a realtor.com report that Meridian at 34.3 percent has a higher proportion of homes built since 2013 than any of the 400 largest cities in America because, as Mike Turner at Boise’s Front Street Brokers told realtor.com, Meridian “has the space to grow” – much of that traditional farm and ranch land.
Only five other U.S. cities have matched Meridian’s growth since 1980
Meridian’s explosive growth has been reported exhaustively, peppered with the city’s repeated Top 10 ranking as a fastest growing city.
Even more singular is Meridian’s hyper surge from 6,658 residents in 1980 to today’s roughly 100,000. Only five other established America cities have experienced similar exponential growth, all of them suburbs in states bordering Mexico.
Gilbert, Ariz., leads the pack, counting just 5,717 residents in 1980 and recording 237,133 in the Census Bureau’s last published estimate in July 2016. Frisco, Texas, increased from 3,499 to 163,656 in the same time frame and has the home stadium for Major League Soccer’s FC Dallas team.
Surprise, Ariz., grew from 7,122 to 132,677 in the past 37 years; Temecula, Calif., from 1,783 to 113,054; The Woodlands, an unincorporated master planned community in Texas, from 8,443 to 109,679; and Allen, Texas, most closely matches Meridian with its maturing from 8,314 people in 1980 and 99,179 in 2016.
“Interestingly, at least to me, is that these are all suburban cities in very large metropolitan areas (Phoenix, LA, Dallas, or Houston),” said Carl Miller, principal planner at the Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho, who compiled this Census data.
Meridian is the only city within a much smaller metropolitan area, ranked only 81st in the U.S. Meridian also is the oldest incorporated city among these cities, incorporated in 1903.
For Meridian, 50,000 was a bigger deal than 100,000
In the nitty-gritty of running a city, exceeding 50,000 residents was a bigger milestone for Meridian than 100,000.
A population of 100,000 is just a number for Mayor Tammy de Weerd and Bruce Chatterton, director of community development.
De Weerd noted federal regulations and requirements come into play at 50,000 residents, including those surrounding the sewer treatment plant. Chatterton said hitting 50,000 residents made Meridian eligible for Community Development Block Grants, a popular U.S. Housing and Urban Development program that has paid for many community development programs around the country since it was initiated in 1974.
“One hundred thousand doesn’t come with the same things,” the mayor said. “We have had (sewer and water) capacity to grow. Our biggest focus is to maintain a level of service our citizens expect from us.”
Meridian is in the process of opening three new parks, and Meridian and Nampa are each planning on building their sixth fire stations.
“I think that Meridian today vs. 10 years ago, we’re still focused on our families and providing a balance of rooftops to jobs, which is a constant struggle,” de Weerd said. “It’s focusing on maintaining a small town feel while providing a full slate of services … Meridian is where you can live, work and recreate without needing to go to another community.”
Children and families are a priority for de Weerd, whose mayoral “about Tammy” webpage has a prominent “youth programs” button just under mayor’s office, priority issues and organizations.
Meridian’s demographics lean more to families than the U.S. as a whole, Chatterton said. It has slightly fewer residents over age 65 than the U.S. average, and 5 percentage points more under 9-year-olds. It has 4 percentage points fewer twentysomethings, according to Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho statistics.
Treasure Valley all of a sudden became popular
Many Americans still confuse Idaho with Iowa and Ohio. Idaho still remains off the radar for most people in noncontiguous states, and isn’t exactly a main focus even for neighboring states. However, Boise is often lauded on national lists. Meridian has made some great-to-live lists, too.
Mother Earth Brew Co., newer multi-state restaurant chains, tech companies, hotel chains, the Village at Meridian, and Heartland Recreational Vehicles moved to Idaho from other states. The Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine chose to place Idaho’s first medical school in Meridian.
“Employers want to be here,” said Hope Morrow, regional economist at Idaho Department of Labor. “Businesses want to have a presence in Idaho.”
Idaho has been around for 150 years. Only within the past 10 years have outside business interests shown much interest in the Treasure Valley, Morrow said.
“It drove off the recession,” Morrow said. “The Magic Valley had 10 percent unemployment. The Treasure Valley had 9 percent.”
The Chobani Effect took hold. The upstate New York Greek yogurt manufacturer found Twin Falls in 2011. All of a sudden, out-of-state companies recognized the Treasure Valley for its inexpensive labor and real estate.
“We had all this workforce,” Morrow said. “These businesses said ‘We need a lot of workers. We want a lot of land. We want cheaper labor.”
Now, the national economy has grown for 97 consecutive months. Population growth continues to surge in Meridian and Nampa. Unemployment hovers around 3 percent in the Boise metro, which economists regard as nearly full employment.
“It’s just a testament that job growth is not just post-recession,” Morrow said. “The Treasure Valley is such a powerhouse now.”
People, not just businesses, are moving to the Treasure Valley.
“We’re in this phenomenon I’m seeing in other parts of the country, Florida and Texas,” said Bruce Chatterton, community development director at the city of Meridian. “Someone moves to Idaho and the whole family follows.”
Nampa’s strength in the manufacturing sector challenges Meridian, which has to build industrial space from scratch.
“Nampa has the advantage we don’t have,” Chatterton said. “They have vacant (industrial) buildings. Boise and Nampa have a stock of available buildings.”
Nampa seeks diversification with HQs and back office
Unlike Meridian, Nampa was relatively large in Idaho terms in 1980 with 25,112 residents, still large enough to be the 12th largest Idaho city.
Nampa has Idaho’s first shopping mall as well as the Ford Idaho Center and Northwest Nazarene University. The local AAA map to this day says Boise-Nampa/Caldwell. Meridian is not mentioned on the cover.
Nampa has evolved into a full-service community. Nampa Economic Development Director Beth Ineck recalls driving to Boise to shop when she started working for the city 15 years ago.
“Our retail has caught up with the population,” she said. “I rarely leave Nampa to shop.”
But Nampa still struggles to keep residents in town to work.
“We would like to see greater economic diversity,” Ineck said.
Nampa’s strong cards are food processing and manufacturing. Weaker are professional services, corporate headquarters and back office operations.
This dynamic plays out in the Interstate 84 traffic volume that Ineck wants to mitigate. Ineck doesn’t bring up the topic of commuter rail to Meridian and Boise. She brings up diversifying jobs so Nampa residents don’t have to drive to Boise for work.
Ineck said 25,000 people in Nampa hop on the freeway each day for office jobs in Boise and Meridian. But another 25,000 cross from Ada County to work in Nampa’s manufacturing and retail sectors.
“I think there are opportunities for Nampa and Meridian for back office operations that don’t need to be in a downtown setting,” she said.
Ineck wants to see Nampa evolve into a venue for corporate headquarters and back office operations.
George Iliff, managing owner at Colliers International, a Boise Commercial real estate firm, doesn’t see corporate headquarters heading for Nampa any time soon.
“Corporate headquarters go where the decision maker resides,” said Iliff. “Headquarters go where the employment base is. You’re not as likely to find the population base in Caldwell and Nampa as you are in Meridian and Boise. I don’t see a corporate headquarters environment any time soon.”