Urban population size, metro proximity, attractive scenery, and recreation potential have historically contributed to nonmetro population growth. For the time being at least, their influence has weakened. Over the last two years, suburban and exurban population growth has contracted considerably—for the first time since World War II—affecting not only outlying metro counties but nonmetro counties adjacent to metro areas as well. The housing mortgage crisis slowed suburban development and contributed to an historic shift within metro regions, with outlying counties now growing at a slower rate than central counties. Similarly, nonmetro counties adjacent to metro areas grew rapidly from exurban development for decades, with many hundreds of counties growing large enough to be reclassified as metropolitan. These types of counties declined in population for the first time as a group during 2010-12. The rate of decline was marginal (6,100 fewer people), but the drop from 2004-06 when a half million people were added was considerably more significant than the drop in nonadjacent counties. This period may simply be an interruption in suburbanization or it could turn out to be the end of a major demographic regime that has transformed small towns and rural areas throughout the country for decades.
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