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Trends Signal Slowing Population Growth In Bend

For years, Bend has been the fastest growing city in the state — and one of the fastest-growing in the country.

But in the recession, that development and growth has turned into a high number of foreclosures and job losses.

Now, a series of statistics have begun to trickle out that signal many people are leaving the region to find a better life elsewhere.

From Bend, Ethan Lindsey reports.

On the northwest edge of the city, visitors driving into town are greeted by the standard green-and-white road sign, proclaiming: ‘Welcome to Bend. Population 80,995.’

Just a few months ago, the sign announced a population of 75,000.

TwitterFollow OPB's Central Oregon correspondent Ethan Lindsey on Twitter.

The new number comes from Portland State’s Population Research Center.

And the growth means Bend was one of the state’s fastest-growing cities last year.

But, the rate of that growth has slowed dramatically. And perhaps flattened.

Jason Pigot owns American Moving Services, based in Bend. I caught up with him on the road.

Jason Pigot: “I’m outside Laramie Wyoming, it’s intermittent snow. The highway’s been wet, but the highway’s dry where I am now.”

Pigot spends a lot of his time driving.

He started his business in the middle of Bend’s growth, and back then, a large part of his business was just unloading trucks packed by brand-new Oregonians.

Jason Pigot: “I don’t do a lot of unloading these days, to be honest.”

On this trip, his 26-foot-long truck is loaded full of belongings from a million-dollar-house in Bend, whose owner is moving to Denver.

Jason Pigot: “It’s pretty standard. Load, and then drive it, and then unload. People are moving out of state, long distance. I don’t see as many people moving in from California. I think there’s more people moving out than moving in.”

He’s moved people out countless foreclosed homes, he says.

At Bend High School, the hallways remain crowded. But, a little less so than in the past few years.

The front office says the school has about 100 fewer students than this time last year.

The trend holds true at the district level as well.

There are about 250 fewer students in the system today, than one year ago, a drop of more than 1%.

Ron Wilkinson: “For us, it’s a matter that a lot of that construction industry is unemployed or has moved elsewhere. It’s certainly impacted the economy and the entire community.” 

Ron Wilkinson is the superintendent of the Bend-La Pine School District.

Ron Wilkinson: “Without any question, Bend is in a situation of flattened growth. And when you’ve been on this pattern of almost straight-up growth on the charts, it feels like a significant decline.”

The economic health of the student population has also changed.

For one thing, about 500 more students are getting free or reduced school lunch – an indication of growing need.

And there’s been a big surge in the number of students taking the bus the school.

Some in the district theorize that may because their parents have been laid off, and aren’t dropping kids off in the morning, on their way to the office.

North of Bend, the Redmond School District feels it as well.

Vicki Fleming: “We have a lot of families that we understand are moving to Texas, and Arizona, and California, just seeking employment.”`

Superintendent Vicki Fleming says  a smaller student population will mean less money for the district from the state.

Vicki Fleming: “Really, a flat enrollment means that you are losing money. When you look at year-to-year, your costs increase, and it if you don’t have an increase in revenue as a result of additional kids, what you end up doing is cutting people and programs.”

Out at the Bend "welcome" sign, cars enter and leave town as they always have.

Still, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation, the number of trips into and around town is down from the highs of 2007.

Taken together, the trends in the city lead many to assume the growth is slowing, and the cutbacks are coming.

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