When it comes to population growth in Michigan, the west is the best, according to estimates released today  by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Kent County, home of Grand Rapids, was Michigan’s fastest-growing county between 2015 and 2016, adding 6,078 people, a 1% gain.

Washtenaw County was the next highest, adding 3,862, also a 1% gain. Oakland County came in third, adding 3,696.

Macomb County grew by 3,223.

Wayne County continued a population decline, albeit at a slower rate. Wayne lost 7,696 people between 2015 and 2016 and has lost 65,849 people — about the population of Taylor — since 2010, according to the estimates.

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“Kent grew the fastest. I think Kent is a real magnet,” said demographer Kurt Metzger, who shared his analysis with the Free Press“The economy is just really strong on the west side of the state.”

Kent County Administrator Daryl Delabbio said Grand Rapids has a growing medical sector with Michigan State University’s Medical School and the Van Andel Institute. And Grand Valley State University, Cornerstone University, Calvin College and Aquinas College also have helped fuel the growth.

The annual ArtPrize competition, which displays art across Grand Rapids, drew about 400,000 visitors over 16 days last fall, and Grand Rapids’ designation as Beer City because of all the craft brew made there also has boosted its tourism industry.

“I think it’s a combination of a high quality of life and economic opportunities,” Delabbio said.

The figures come from estimates done annually by the U.S. Census Bureau. The data released today goes down only to the county level. Population estimates for cities, villages and townships are expected to be released later in the year.

Overall, 48 Michigan counties had population declines;  35 counties grew, Metzger said.

“We’re still not attracting and retaining people in their child-bearing years,” he said.

Wayne County’s one-year decline was similar to the 7,857 who left the year before. It was the most of any county in America except for Cook County, Ill., the home of Chicago.

Wayne County spokesman Jim Martinez said population growth often lags behind economic development and strong policy.

“We think the strides we’re making in Wayne County in both those areas will continue to positively impact our population numbers as more and more people come to recognize the growing opportunities and quality of life here,” Martinez said.

Gains in Oakland and Macomb come from more people moving in, Metzger said.

“Births aren’t changing and deaths aren’t changing enough to make much of a difference, so it all comes down to migration,” Metzger said. “Fewer people are leaving compared to people coming in. That was the main contributor to their population gain.”

Oakland County spokesman Bill Mullan credited County Executive L. Brooks Patterson’s economic development initiatives like Emerging Sectors and Main Street Oakland County for adding jobs, which attracts residents.

“If you look at our knowledge-based economy, we create about 30% of the new jobs in Michigan annually,” Mullan said. “There’s great quality of life here. People want to live here.”

Oakland’s gain in 2016 was more than double the 1,583 people who entered the county in 2015, according to Census figures.

Contact John Wisely: 313-222-6825 or jwisely@freepress.com