LEWISTON – They come for love; they come for money.
They come to escape the big city and they come to fulfill retirement plans.
People moving to Idaho come for a variety of reasons. But one thing is clear: In the past 10 years, they have joined a migration of newcomers who have made Idaho one of the fastest-growing states in the country.
“I feel like people here are a lot friendlier” than those in central Texas where she came from, said Sarah McLain, who moved to Lewiston in December “to be with the love of my life, who was born and raised in Lewiston.”
“It just seems like you never meet a stranger and people open up to you,” McLain added.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Idaho has led the country in population growth for the fifth year in a row. From 2020 to 2021, Idaho’s population grew 2.9%, according to Census Bureau population estimates.
In 2021, Idaho welcomed 53,000 new residents, bringing its population total to about 1.9 million. The main reason was people moving from other states.
Utah and Montana ranked just below Idaho, growing 1.7% each. Washington ranked 23rd, gaining about 0.3% in population.
Karen Meadows moved to Lewiston in June 2019 from Hanna, La., when her husband, Dave, was offered a job at CCI/Speer. Meadows also noted the friendliness of the people in Idaho but said that’s not the only thing she likes about the place.
“We do love the weather here, even when it’s hot, it’s not too hot to us because the humidity is low,” Meadows said. “When the people here are dying (because of the heat) we’re like, ‘No, this isn’t hot.’ The humidity just makes a huge difference. Even the cold doesn’t feel that cold. And you have all four seasons here. We (in Louisiana) don’t have all four seasons.”
The 2020 Idaho census ranked Ada, Canyon and Kootenai counties with the most growth in population over the past decade.
Nez Perce County was in 10th place with 7.2% growth and a total population of 42,090, followed by Latah County in 11th place with 6.1% growth and total population of 39,517.
Idaho County was in 20th place with 1.7% growth and total population of 16,541. Clearwater County was in 31st place, losing 0.3% in population with a total of 8,734 and Lewis County in 41st place with a loss of 7.5% and total population of 3,533.
Washington’s fastest-growing counties in the 2020 census include King, Pierce and Snohomish counties on the west side of the state.
Whitman County was in 22nd place with 7.1% growth and total population of 47,973. Asotin County was in 30th place with 3.1% growth and total population of 22,285 and Garfield County was in 39th place with 0.9% growth and total population of 2,286.
Darlene Lambert moved from Clackamas, Oregon, to Reubens in 2012 and then relocated to Lewiston in 2020.
Much of the charm for her was the small-town atmosphere of the area. But some of that is beginning to change, she said, pointing to the deterioration in some of the infrastructure.
“When we first moved here, we rented in Reubens and my husband would (drive to Lewiston to work every day),” Lambert said. “We were impressed with how well the roads were maintained, even in the winter. But we’ve seen a noticeable decline in the last four or five years.”
Despite the shifts, Lambert said she and her family intend to stay in Lewiston. But if she had to give advice to people thinking about relocating to Idaho, she would say: “If you want to get away from where you are, don’t come here and try to change Lewiston into what you just left. I think that’s pretty much across the board.”
Richard Hanson, who moved to Lewiston in 2018 from Fresno, Calif., said he appreciates the slower pace of small-town Idaho compared to where he used to live.
“I worked for 39 years for the city of Fresno (as a police supervisor) and I’m trying to get away from the helicopters and the sirens,” Hanson said.
Even though Lewiston doesn’t have the same array of cultural activities that a larger city can offer, Hanson said it’s not too far to drive to Spokane for the theater or some other entertainment.
He, too, is sensitive about the area growing too much and ruining the small-town flavor. Some of his relatives, he said, have encouraged him not to brag too much on social media about how great it is to live in Idaho.
“We don’t want to get more people here,” he said.