2025 Comprehensive Plan Update: 20-year Population Forecast

Clark County Council approved 1.4% annual growth rate with a 20-year projected population of 718,154. This projection is one building block of the 2025 Comprehensive Plan Update. This is a planning tool used to prepare for the growth that is coming as well as address some of the current issues of housing stock shortage, affordability, and homelessness.

The BIA along with a coalition of Clark County businesses, thought leaders, and associations (NW Partners for a Stronger Community-Comp Plan Taskforce) have been advocating for a reasonable 20-year Population Forecast. During the summer of 2022, Clark County Council approved and submitted the Vacant Buildable Lands Report and as of May 2, 2023, after multiple hearings and work sessions, Council Members arrived at an annual population growth forecast of 1.4%.

What is the 20-year Population Forecast and why does it matter? 

The 20-year Population Forecast is a process that begins with the State of Washington’s Office of Financial Management (OFM). OFM is responsible for gathering data from various sources including the U.S. Census to use in calculations resulting in a low, middle, and high projection for population growth on a 20-year planning horizon. OFM’s role in the population forecast is critical as counties are not allowed to choose any number outside OFM’s low to high range.

OFM has been making these projections since the inception of the Growth Management Act (GMA). They have often been within a percentage point or two of the actual historical growth. A percentage point may not seem catastrophic, but even the smallest discrepancy in these projections results in major community planning challenges.

OFM’s 2016 projections resulted in an underestimate of 0.74%. This was documented by Clark County Council in the Vacant Buildable Lands Report with this statement:

“The population projection adopted by Council in 2016 assumed an annual average growth rate of 1.26% over the 20-year planning horizon (Issue Paper 7). The growth rate since 2015 has been 10% over the five-year period (Figure 2) or an annual average rate of 2%.” 

Fast forward to the current planning cycle, OFM again asserted that their middle range projection of an annual growth rate of 1.26% should be the number approved by Clark County Council for the 2025 Comprehensive Plan Update. The BIA along with NW Partners disagreed. They built an advocacy campaign that included in depth analysis of the data, convening listening session with local jurisdictions, briefing County Council Members, and engaging stakeholders with informative resources detailing the fallacy of OFM’s assertion.

What does 1.4% annual growth rate mean for communities around Clark County?

The BIA and NW Partners set to work and ultimately achieved a viable compromise at 1.4% annual growth rate. With an annual average growth rate of 1.4% from now until 2045, Clark County’s population forecast is projected to reach 717,198 residents. Doing the math, 717,198 minus 698,416 (OFM preferred middle number) represents a difference of 18,782 additional residents for the 20-year planning period or an additional 939 residents per year. The intent of GMA is to manage growth rather than to underestimate growth and in turn become reactive to community crises like housing affordability and homelessness.

If the BIA and NW Partners had not identified the fallacy and tackled it head on, Clark County would have missed the mark by 18,782 residents by 2045 or sooner. The 20-year population forecast is not a limitation Clark County will put on how many people will migrate to Southwest Washington. It is a projection. This projection is a planning tool to help Clark County and all the jurisdictions within the county to plan for the teachers, public service workers, law enforcement officers, social workers, nurses, and human services workers who want to live where they work. When the workers who are the backbone of the community cannot afford to live where they work, a sense of community is lost.

What’s next? 

The 2025 Comprehensive Plan Update will shape Clark County for the next two decades. It will determine how prepared the community will be to serve, protect, educate, transport, feed, nurse, and house the people who are coming to Clark County. These are issues that require continued private and public collaboration and coordination.

The quality of life in Clark County is dependent on informed and energized thought leaders pursuing actionable truth. The BIA and NW Partners have stepped up to take the lead on the challenges to come including partnering with each jurisdiction to prepare plans for accommodating growth and providing affordable housing for all income levels as required by HB 1220.

The next major decisions include Employment Projections on July 12 and Countywide Planning Policies and Population Allocation in the Fall of 2023. The BIA and NW Partners are planning their approaches for each of these issues.