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Westward Ho!

More than 100 years ago, New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley told his fellow Americans to "Go west." And they still are.

Twelve of the nation's 20 fastest growing metropolitan areas are in the West, the Census Bureau says. The fastest growing: Greeley, Colo.

Greeley and its surrounding communities, about 60 miles north of Denver, grew by 16.8 percent, to 211,000 people, between 2000 and 2003, according to a report being released Thursday.

Greeley, whose first settlers included an editor who had worked for the famous 19th century journalist, ranked just ahead of two other Western communities: St. George, Utah, and Las Vegas.

Greeley City Manager Roy Otto said the area has grown because it's a reasonable commute to Denver and has relatively inexpensive homes.

The annual Census estimates of urban population growth show the New York-northern New Jersey-Long Island area with a population of 18.6 million. The number of people in the region, the nation's largest metropolitan area, was up 1.7 percent from three years earlier.

The Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana population hit 12.8 million and Chicago-Naperville-Joliet was 9.33 million.

The Census Bureau defines a metropolitan area as a region containing at least one urbanized area of 50,000 or more people. The report released Thursday focused on growth estimates from 2000 to 2003, the most recent information available.

Americans have been moving south and west for decades, with a big jump in population in the South, starting in the 1970s. Still, the West continues to outpace all other regions.

The population of the western United States grew by 19.7 percent in the 1990s, followed by the South, with 17.3 percent more people. The Midwest and the Northeast posted single-digit increases in population.

That's according to the 2000 Census, which counted 281,421,906 people in the U.S. - an increase of over 13 percent from 1990.

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