By TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writer
When you think of how Hawaii Island earned its moniker — the Big Island — the size of its towns probably doesn’t come to mind.
Large rural areas still dominate much of the landscape and its towns feel worlds apart from people-packed places like Honolulu.
But when it comes to population, the Big Island may not be so tiny after all.
The U.S. Census Bureau in a recent update on population growth named Hawaii County the second-largest “micropolitan” area in the nation.
With 189,191 people in 2012, the county, referred to as the Hilo micro area, fell behind only the Claremont, N.H.-Lebanon, Vt. area, which hosted a population of 217,000 last year.
The Census Bureau lists 536 micro areas, which must have a population center, or “urban core,” of between 10,000 and 50,000 people.
Anything larger is considered a metropolitan area. Oahu is considered one, and, as of this year, so is Maui County.
Hawaii County was ranked in 2011 as being the fourth-largest micro area, said Jan Nakamoto, a researcher with the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. She said the change in ranking may have been helped by other areas, such as Maui County, making it into the metropolitan designation.
But what does all this mean?
Perhaps not much.
Eugene Tian, a state economist with DBEDT, said he wasn’t aware of any financial benefits, such as federal grants, for areas that get the micro title.
Tian said the Census Bureau does conduct more surveys in metro areas, which could lead to more concise data being collected on their communities, but he wasn’t aware of any other change.
“The only benefit is they have data,” he said.
Between July 2011 and July 2012, the county saw the fourth biggest population increase of the micro areas, with 1,962.
Last year, the state saw an overall population increase of 14,184.
Honolulu County shared the largest chunk of that with 10,009 more people. Maui County had an increase of 1,560 and Kauai County had a bump of 653.
Email Tom Callis at email@example.com.