The north country avoided the steep population losses that other parts of New York suffered in the last decade, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Thursday in an early snapshot of how the region fared in the 2010 census.
Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties all posted increases in total population compared with the 2000 count. Officials in Jefferson County, where a 4 percent increase well outpaced other upstate counties, said they might seek an upward adjustment to account for troops from Fort Drum who were deployed when the national head count took place.
Meanwhile, St. Lawrence County — at a 0.01 percent increase — and Lewis County — at a 0.05 percent increase — are just happy their populations didn't decline in the 2010 Census results released Thursday.
Taken together, the figures, which officials in Albany will use to draw new state and federal legislative districts, suggest the region is seeing neither the big outmigration that would hurt economically, nor the steady growth that would help attract new business and industry. The sprawling 23rd Congressional District also may not have to expand so much when maps are rewritten to reflect the loss of two House seats statewide.
The count showed that in April 2010, Jefferson County's population stood at 116,229, up from 111,738 in 2000 and 110,943 in 1990. It was the 14th-fastest-growing county in the state, the Census Bureau reported.
The city of Watertown's population increased from 26,705 in 2000 to 27,023 in the latest count. The town of Watertown saw a decrease from 4,482 in 2000 to 4,470 in 2010.
St. Lawrence County's population stood at 111,944, barely rising from 111,931 in 2000 and down from 111,974 in 1990.
Lewis County's population totaled 27,087, up from 26,944 in 2000 and 26,796 in 1990.
Jefferson County can attribute much of its growth to the expansion of Fort Drum, but soldiers and their families present a challenge as well because they may not be counted when they are deployed overseas.
"In the past we've been able to substantiate that we have some deployments to get our numbers adjusted up," said Robert F. Hagemann III, Jefferson County administrator. "I'm assuming we'll go through a similar process this time."
The county would have been the fifth-fastest-growing in the state if the 7,600 soldiers who were deployed in April 2010 — not to mention the families that may have left the area — were accounted for, local leaders maintain.
"That's always going to be one the of the challenges for Jefferson County," Mr. Hagemann said. "We're always going to have some of our soldiers deployed."
In Lewis and St. Lawrence counties, officials expressed relief at the numbers.
"Our population increased by just a smidge," St. Lawrence County planner John F. Tenbusch said. "Overall, the difference is negligible. The important thing is, we didn't lose people."
The figures include prison inmates and college students. "That indicates we did a better job of counting students than we did 10 years ago," Mr. Tenbusch said.
In Lewis County, the chairman of the county Legislature, Jack T. Bush, R-Brantingham, said he was pleasantly surprised by the small increase.
"I guess that's better than going the other way," he said.
Figures released Thursday do not include details such as income levels, age and other key demographics. Those numbers will play an important role in the amount of federal aid reaching the region and also play into decisions by businesses whether to locate in the region. A stagnant or shrinking population is generally not a good sign, said Donald C. Alexander, chief executive of the Jefferson County Job Development Corp.
"The most important thing you pick out of it is trends," Mr. Alexander said. Manufacturers want to know about their potential work force, he said.
But census numbers may not pick up another of the county's strengths from Fort Drum — the work force of military spouses, Mr. Alexander said.
Towns and villages saw mixed numbers. The villages of Canton and Potsdam posted increases, but Ogdensburg and Massena continue to see an exodus. Ogdensburg's population stood at 11,128, down from 12,364 in 2000 and 13,521 in 1990. The population in Massena was 10,936, down from 11,209 in 2000 and 11,719 in 1990.
The 2010 numbers also will be used by officials drawing New York's legislative districts for the next decade. New York's 29-member House delegation will drop to 27, its lowest level since 1823. The U.S. Census Bureau in December reported that the state's population grew by 2 percent in the past decade, to 19.4 million.
Times Washington correspondent Marc Heller, Times staff writers Martha Ellen and Steve Virkler and the Associated Press contributed to this report.