Outside of the Mid-Atlantic region, the Southwest has become the biggest contributor of domestic migration to Washington County. Hundreds of people came from Houston, Dallas, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Los Angeles, according to census data from 2009-10, up from only a few dozen from Phoenix and San Diego 10 years before.
Not all of those people are Latinos, but that portion of the population is on the rise, too. The number of Latinos in Washington County more than doubled to 2,366 between the 2000 and 2010 censuses.
Much of that growth probably is a result of the gas industry and its spinoffs, local experts said. Since fall, real estate agents have noted a surge in home buying from executives and middle managers who moved from Texas, Oklahoma and Arizona, West said. The AAA on Murtland Avenue handled a spate of car title transfers early this year from Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana, travel counselor Donna Kotchman said.
“I’ve been trying to tell people in Pittsburgh (these workers) are buying houses, they’re going to our schools, they’re bringing their families. It’s not just a bunch of bachelors or husbands coming up here to work and then go home eventually,” said Milana Nick of South Strabane, director of research at PittsburghTODAY. “I think a lot of them would like more Mexican restaurants here, but ... a lot of them feel surprisingly at home here.”
The growth started before the gas drilling boom. The Spanish Mass at Holy Rosary parish in Muse began about eight years ago, said the Rev. George T. DeVille. Attendance started at about 25 people, and the growth seems most connected to how regularly the service has a Spanish-speaking priest, DeVille said.
The origins of the Holy Rosary parishioners are likely key to Washington County's Latino migration story. As the shale gas boom took hold, word travels through the network. That's how a family from Los Angeles or Phoenix ends up in Washington, PA. With the region accelerating out of the recession, more Latinos will come looking for work. We should see a similar effect take hold in Cleveland as the Utica Shale play ramps up.
In terms of Latino domestic migration, the sluice gates are now wide open. Check out the demographic transformation that occurred over the last decade in the eastern-most parts of the Rust Belt. That's happening now in Washington County.