The number of people who call Stafford County home will eventually surpass the population of Newport News if the University of Virginia’s recent projections hold true.

Nearly 209,000 residents are expected to live there by 2040, which would make Stafford the state’s 12th largest locality, according to state-funded data released this week by U.Va.’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. To put that in perspective, the populations of Newport News and Alexandria will settle at 185,000 and 215,000, respectively, over the next two decades under Weldon’s estimates.

The forecast, based on population growth rates over the past 15 years, shows steady population increases in the Fredericksburg region. The city and Stafford, Spotsylvania, King George and Culpeper counties are all expected to grow by more than 30 percent from 2020–40.

In the short term, Fredericksburg and Stafford lead the pack.

An estimated 29,596 residents will live in Fredericksburg by 2020, a 4.6 percent increase from the Census Bureau’s 2016 estimate. Weldon predicts nearly 39,000 city residents by 2040.

Stafford, already the region’s largest locality, will have an estimated 150,881 residents in 2020, up 4.5 percent from 2016. Spotsylvania will have an estimated 181,549 residents in 2040, maintaining its place among the state’s 20 largest localities.

King George’s population will decline slightly from 2016–2020, according to the data. But 34,955 people are expected to live there by 2040, up 8,971 from last year. Caroline’s population would grow from an estimated 30,910 in 2020 to 40,043 in 2040.

Notably, Weldon researchers think Fredericksburg will be the center of the state’s population by 2040. The U.S. Census bureau defines a center of population as “the place where an imaginary, flat, weightless and rigid map … would balance perfectly if all residents were of identical weight.”

Ben Keddie, vice president of Coldwell Banker Commercial Elite in Fredericksburg, called the predictions “not altogether surprising.”

“I think a lot of people are seeing how many benefits the region can offer at a lower cost than some comparable neighboring bedroom communities,” he said.

Someday, he said, he thinks the Interstate 95 corridor from Baltimore to Richmond will look like one big city on a map.

Virginia is expected to surpass New Jersey and Michigan as the 10th most populous state by 2040—primarily because of growth in Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads.

Racial diversity will also increase locally and statewide, according to the recent estimates. In Spotsylvania and Stafford, for instance, the Hispanic populations are expected to rise 29 percent and 20 percent, respectively, from 2015–20.

Still, the rate of growth is slowing compared with previous decades.

Populations in many rural communities are expected to shrink or stay the same, though the percentage of elderly residents will rise disproportionately in those parts of the state. Statewide, the number of adults 65 and older is expected to double by 2030 as the average life expectancy increases.

“Based on our research, the commonwealth should begin preparing for the increased level of health care and support services that this growing population of seniors will require,” Weldon researcher Shonel Sen said in a statement.

U.Va. researchers stress that the numbers could change.

“While some trends are certain, such as population aging and increasing racial diversity, the future—especially the longer-term future—is inherently unknown,” said Qian Cai, director of Weldon’s Demographics Research Group. “This is why we encourage data users to recognize the limitations in the projections. Nonetheless, localities can and should actively plan for their futures, and may turn to the trends in the past as indicators of what may lie ahead.”

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Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402

jbranscome@freelancestar.com

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