FARMINGTON — A USA Today article published this month ranks Farmington as the second fastest shrinking city in the country, but a local economist says the story lacks context.
"Yes, it's something to be concerned about, but the real question is, is it long term?" said Ray Hagerman, CEO of Four Corners Economic Development, an organization dedicated to stimulating the region's economy.
The answer, he said, is no.
Between 2010 and 2013, Farmington's population dropped by 2.72 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau statistics cited in the USA Today article.
Unlike most other metropolitan cities with long-term declining populations, Farmington's population only began shrinking recently, and before that, it was growing, according to the article. "Nearly 7,000 more people moved out of Farmington than moved in between 2010 and 2013, among the highest outward migrations in the nation over that period," the article states.
Pine Bluff, Ark., is losing its population even faster, taking the No. 1 spot, according to the article. Between those same years, that city lost 4.43 percent of its population, according to the article.
The other declining cities are Flint, Mich.; Johnstown, Penn.; and Mansfield, Ohio, according to the article. In the same three years, Flint lost 2.45 percent of its population, Johnstown lost 2.21 percent and Mansfield lost 2.17, according to the article.
But an important difference exists between Farmington and the four other cities, Hagerman said.
According to the article, the other cities population peaked long before Farmington's — Pine Bluff, Flint and Mansfield in 1980 and Johnstown in 1940. Those cities, Hagerman said, suffer from "long-term endemic population outpourings."
Farmington's population peaked in 2010, according to the study. Hagerman said that's primarily because of the region's dependency on extractive industries such as oil and gas. "When it's no longer economical to be drilling in the basin, for example, then the jobs are going to disappear," he said, "and people are going to leave."
But 1,077 new jobs have been added to Farmington's economy between the third quarters of 2012 and 2013, according to Four Corners Economic Development documents. And Hagerman said those jobs and the others that are expected to come — once local residents are employed — will attract out-of-town workers.
The full context of Farmington's population is missing from the USA Today article, he said.
"Anytime you take a snap shot in time, you're going to see things like that," he said.
Mayor Tommy Roberts read the article. He said he is not alarmed.
He said the city has likely regained the population it lost between those three years. He already sees signs of economic activity, and he anticipates drilling at the Mancos Shale oil formation will increase towards the end of 2014 and into 2015.
"I don't see this as a death spiral," he said, "by any stretch of the imagination."