You might have been taken aback by the most recent population estimates for the mid-valley from the Population Research Center at Portland State University.

The center recently released its estimates for population growth over the next 50 years, and the sheer scope of the projected increases might have given you pause. The center said that Linn County would have more than 180,000 people by 2067, a 47.5 percent increase. Growth in Benton County would be slower ("just" 36.1 percent), but the population would be above 125,000.

Imagine an Albany with 91,560 residents, up from its current 54,055. Imagine Corvallis with 84,495 residents, up from its current 61,449. (Although the overall increases are surprising, it's a good bet that no one was stunned by estimates that Albany would become bigger than Corvallis by mid-century; Albany is considerably more hospitable toward growth than is Corvallis, and that seems unlikely to change.)

The biggest boom towns in the mid-valley, the ones where growth could truly become transformative, are both in Linn County: Lebanon is expected to nearly double in population, from 19,416 now to 34,628. And Millersburg is primed to experience explosive growth, from 1,795 now to 5,147 in a half-century.

Although some of these growth projections are eye-popping, we ignore them at our peril. 

In part, that's because these growth projections jibe with something we already sense: The mid-valley is increasingly attractive as a place to live, and that's not going to be changing any time soon. 

But the risk in just ignoring these predictions, pretending that they can't possibly be true, is that such an influx of people could well affect the quality of life here — one of the reasons why people feel drawn to the region. 

It's also not clear how the mid-valley's economy will adapt to deal with this growing population: Demographics suggest that the population will become older and more urbanized as it grows. Labor economists think it's possible that job growth will not keep pace with population, forcing employers to cross county borders to find work. That could accelerate a trend that's already in motion, the increasing interdependence of the economies of Linn and Benton counties.

In fact, one economist suggested, this type of population growth eventually could end with Linn and Benton counties being considered a single metropolitan statistical area. Although you could hear the mid-valley gasp as one at the suggestion, the idea isn't as far-fetched as it seems: There's significant collaboration already between the Corvallis and Albany metropolitan statistical areas, and the fact is that one area with nearly 200,000 people conceivably would wield more clout than two separate areas.

None of this is to suggest that Linn County and Benton County will blend into one homogeneous whole; politically and culturally, that's unlikely to happen (although political changes have washed over both counties in recent decades). 

But these population projections should serve as a warning to the mid-valley: We're going to be home to a lot more people. We need to be preparing for them now.

Farewell to David Patton 

David Patton, a photographer for the Democrat-Herald for nearly 25 years, has left the building: He has retired from the newspaper with an eye toward opening a portrait photography business in the mid-valley. His last day in the office was Friday.

Patton's last day at work was typical: He accompanied a reporter to take memorable photos for a story that said something interesting about the mid-valley. He's been doing that, day in and day out, for more than two decades without making much of a fuss about it.

Typically, he didn't want a lot of fuss about his last day — he's never been comfortable being the center of attention — but we made a little bit of a fuss anyway. He'll be missed. Here's wishing him the best of luck.

Speaking of photographers, you might recall the mention I made in the column a few months ago when Godofredo Vasquez was hired by the Houston Chronicle. Vasquez now is in the middle of that paper's extraordinary coverage of Harvey, and you can see his work on the paper's website and also on his Facebook and Instagram pages. (mm)

Mike McInally is the editor of the Albany Democrat-Herald and Corvallis Gazette-Times. Contact him at mike.mcinally@lee.net

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