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While population in the Greater Buffalo metropolitan area has dropped 5.5 percent since 1980, U.S. Census Bureau figures show the exodus from the two-county area may be stabilizing.

The population decline still was the largest percentage drop of any major metropolitan area during the period.

Census Bureau statistics show Greater Buffalo, which includes Erie and Niagara counties, has remained the nation's 33rd largest metropolitan area for the second year in a row, although the bureau estimates 7,100 people moved out of the area in 1987.

"I think the population of Buffalo and Greater Buffalo area is starting to stabilize. I think we're definitely on the upswing," said Robert P. Carr, vice president for marketing and communications for the Greater Buffalo Area Chamber of Commerce.

The population for the Buffalo metropolitan area in 1987 was put at 1,174,500, compared with an estimated 1,181,600 the previous year.

"Those figures are not new. There have been stories the last two years about population decline," Carr said. "It's probably fewer than those who left Milwaukee, Cleveland and Detroit."

Other areas with more than 1 million people experiencing population declines since 1980 were Pittsburgh, with a 5.2 percent drop; Detroit, down 2.6 percent, Cleveland, down 2.4 percent and Milwaukee, down 0.5 percent.

The fastest-growing metropolitan area remains Phoenix, Ariz., whose population grew by 30 percent between 1980 and 1987. Overall national population growth since 1980 was 7.4 percent.

The Buffalo metropolitan area is among nearly one-fifth -- 54 -- of the nation's metropolitan areas that have been losing population in this decade. Most are in the Midwest, where 29 lost population, and the Northeast, where 12 metropolitan areas had declining population.

"This isn't surprising at all," Carr said, noting that areas that lost population were those that had an emphasis on heavy manufacturing and that lost out in the shift to service jobs.

"What it does is make us work a lot harder."

He said Chamber studies show that the number of jobs in the area increased by 43,000 from 1982 to 1987, although those jobs are mainly in the service sector.

Carr said the average hotel revenue in Buffalo was up 16 percent in the first half of this year compared to the same time last year.

"The economy is on an upswing," he said.

The Census Bureau estimates population totals between the actual census-taking, which takes place every 10 years. In 1990, the nation's population count again will be taken.

The two-county Buffalo area's loss of population could be felt in the form of fewer federal and state dollars. Many federal and state funds are dispersed to local governments under formulas based partly on population.

Census figures also are used to determine the number of district representatives in government. A loss of population could mean a loss of representatives.

Carr acknowledged that publicity about declining population can damage the area's reputation nationwide.

"I think this is one reason why we need a Campaign for a Greater Buffalo," he said.

The campaign, launched in April, includes public relations, talk-show appearances and other techniques to spread the message about Buffalo. The Chamber hopes to establish a multimillion-dollar endowment to allow a permanent campaign.

"We still are marketing Buffalo as an exceptional place to do business, to live and to visit," Carr said.

The Census report said the nation is becoming more urban, with nearly half the population now concentrated in 37 metropolitan areas with a million or more population.

The bureau also reports that three of every four Americans live in the nation's 282 designated metropolitan areas, an increase of 14.6 million people, or 8.5 percent, from 1980.

The largest population center remains New York City, with 18 million, followed by Los Angeles, 13.4 million; Chicago, 8.1 million; San Francisco, 5.9 million; Philadelphia, 5.8 million; Detroit, 4.6 million; Boston, 4 million; Dallas, 3.7 million; Washington, 3.64 million, and Houston, 3.62 million.

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