Fast-growing Prince William County has leapfrogged Virginia Beach to become the second-most-populous jurisdiction in Virginia, further cementing the dominance within the commonwealth of its Washington suburbs.
Three out of four of the state's largest jurisdictions are now in Northern Virginia, according to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data by the University of Virginia's Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.
Since 2010, Northern Virginia has accounted for 60 percent of the state's population growth, snarling traffic and clogging schools in many communities but also drawing the attention of companies such as Amazon.com and fueling a wave of Democratic victories in the November elections.
The region's growth is on display every day in the form of residential developments being built in Prince William, massive data center complexes erected in once-rural parts of Loudoun County and a new skyline lighting up the night in Fairfax County's Tysons Corner, where car dealerships and malls used to dominate the landscape.
It has compensated for declines in eastern, Southside and southwest Virginia and the lowest average statewide growth rate in nearly a century to push Virginia's population to nearly 8.5 million.
"We are a very attractive place to live," said Jim Corcoran, president of the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce. "I'm sitting here in my office in Tysons Corner, and we have a view of the new Capitol One building going up. We're seeing cranes all over the place."
Hamilton Lombard, a Weldon Cooper Center researcher who led the analysis, said the continued strong pace of growth was surprising, given a $13 billion cut in federal spending in the region since 2013.
"We maybe thought there would be a little less growth in Northern Virginia, at least in proportion to the rest of the state," Lombard said.
But with more younger families moving to Washington's exurbs in search of relatively cheaper housing and less crowded schools, he said, the region is poised to continue growing for years.
"There were a lot more births than deaths" in Northern Virginia, Lombard said. "That's something that won't change anytime soon, likely."
Between 2010 and July of last year, Prince William grew by nearly 54,000 residents to reach an estimated population of 456,000. During the same period, Virginia Beach grew by 16,500 residents, for an estimated total of 454,500.
Fairfax, still the state's largest jurisdiction, added 61,730 residents, climbing to a population of 1.14 million. Loudoun, the state's fastest-growing jurisdiction, gained nearly 84,000 residents for a total of 396,00 — surpassing Chesterfield County, which gained 23,700 residents to become the state's fourth-most-populous jurisdiction.
The four counties with the largest portions of population 35 and younger were Arlington, Loudoun, Prince William and Stafford, according to 2016 census estimates. Those four Northern Virginia jurisdictions also have the smallest ratios of people 65 and older, the estimates show.
The concentration of working-age people, many of them highly educated, is probably one reason Northern Virginia is among 20 finalists vying for Amazon.com's new headquarters. (Jeffrey P. Bezos, Amazon's president and chief executive, owns The Washington Post.)
However, the growth also has come with headaches, most notably some of the worst traffic in the country and increasingly overcrowded schools.
Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) campaigned heavily on frustration about congestion on Route 28 to beat longtime incumbent Robert G. Marshall (R) and become the first openly transgender person in the nation to run for a statehouse seat and be seated. She is one of several new Democratic delegates elected in Northern Virginia districts that have gone from safely Republican to trending Democratic.
That shift could spell trouble for conservative firebrand Corey A. Stewart, the chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors who is seeking the Republican nomination to challenge Sen. Tim Kaine (D) in November.
But Stewart exulted in the county's rising stature in an interview Wednesday, arguing that the population growth puts Prince William in a position to wield more influence on state spending and other government policies.
Stewart said most of Prince William's recent growth has occurred along the Route 1 corridor and in western communities such as Gainesville and Haymarket. Entire neighborhoods are being built on the edge of the county's protected Rural Crescent, which was zoned in the late 1990s to guard against urban sprawl.
County officials are mindful of controlling the growth and maintaining a suburban — rather than urban — character, Stewart said. But he said he was happy to hear that Prince William is no longer a step below Virginia Beach in population.
"To tell you the truth, we thought it was much higher," Stewart said about the census estimates for his county. "But, whatever. We're not going to quibble. We're bigger than Virginia Beach. That's what's important."