Erie County's population held steady last year and has grown by more than 6,000 residents since 2010, according to the latest estimate released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.
As of July 1, 2017, Erie County's population was estimated at 925,528 – 2,412 more than the year before.
Though the county's population has grown by less than 1 percent over the past six years, County Executive Mark Poloncarz said the census figures show that the region's long and steep population decline is finally moving back in the other direction. Both the census figures and the latest job-growth report for the region point to a healthy economy, he said.
"We would not have had that growth if the economy was weak," he said. "When you compare us to a comparable group of cities and counties in the Northeast and Midwest, we're growing and they're not."
Niagara County showed a negligible drop in population from a year ago, but a deeper loss of 2.4 percent of its population – more than 5,000 people – since 2010. Most Southern Tier counties also experienced population losses from a year ago, and longer-term losses of 3 percent to 4 percent since 2010.
The Buffalo Niagara region's estimated population in 2017 was 1,136,856 – a gain of nearly 2,000 people since 2016. It remains the 51st biggest metro area in the nation for population.
The metro area's population is almost the same as it was six years ago, with growth within Erie County offsetting population erosion in other areas.
Across the state, most counties with major upstate cities showed similar trends to Erie County, with stable population figures, or incremental population growth from a year ago and since 2010.
Poloncarz pointed to other upstate counties and to places like Milwaukee, where he said population numbers are falling. The fact that Erie County has held its own means more people have a reason to stay, he said.
"You don't have population growth if you don't have an economy that can sustain it," he said.
He added that live births have been outpacing deaths in this region, and local economic development agencies and businesses have reported hiring millennials from outside the area to fill job vacancies. Prior influxes of refugees and immigrants, particularly on Buffalo's West Side, have also helped, he said, though the number of new refugees coming into the area has dropped off.
The small nudge in population growth in Erie County doesn't represent a dramatic population shift, but Poloncarz said the region has to crawl before it can walk.
"We've gotten past the crawling stage, and we're starting to walk again," he said.