A surge in people moving from elsewhere in the country to the Twin Cities last year contributed to the metro area’s population growth, which added a quarter-million residents since 2010, according to the latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The 43,000 new residents last year also marked the largest year-over-year growth for the Twin Cities in recent history, according to a demographer with the Brookings Institution. The additional residents since 2010 bring the metro area’s population to just over 3.6 million, holding steady as the 16th-largest metro in the country.

The Twin Cities’ growth lags that of its rival metros, such as Seattle, Portland and Denver, and it’s well behind by the population boom in Florida and Texas cities. But those who analyze the data are optimistic about the impact on the local economy.

Matt Lewis tracks the movement of “working professionals” — specifically people over 23 with an associate degree or higher — to the metro area for Greater MSP. Looking at five-year averages, he recently found that 2016 was the best year for attracting new professionals to the region since tracking began in 2007.

“When we’re looking at professionals in the workforce, something happened where our performance notably jumped in 2016 — and that trend looks like it’s continuing,” Lewis said.

The Census Bureau’s definition of the Twin Cities metro extends to 16 counties surrounding the central cities, extending northward to Mille Lacs and eastward to western Wisconsin. About 85 percent of the population lives in the seven-county area.

The net number of people who moved to the Twin Cities from elsewhere in the country, versus those who left, rose dramatically last year, according to the new census data, which is derived from the American Community Survey. And 2017 was the first year since 2001 that more people moved to Minnesota from other states than moved out of state, according to census data crunched by the state demographer’s office.

Demographers won’t be able to explain precisely who these people are until more data becomes available. But demographer Susan Brower said it is good news for the local economy, because existing residents are dying in higher numbers and births are relatively flat.

“The supply of workers isn’t coming as much from internal growth as it has been in the past because of those things,” Brower said. “And going forward we would expect that that outsized opportunity and relatively slow growth in the labor force would create a pull, so that people would hear about the great jobs we have here and the opportunities.”

The Twin Cities’ year-over-year growth rate has hovered around 1 percent. But last year was its best yet since 2010, with a 1.2 percent rise.

“That it is driven by migration speaks to the health of our economy, the draw that the metropolitan area is in that regard,” Brower said.

Jack DeWaard, a University of Minnesota sociology professor, said that what little data is available about the latest migration trends hints that older people are moving here as well.

“Part of the reason that the Twin Cities has seen growth is not only because of Fortune 500 companies, but ... because people are moving back home,” DeWaard said. “People are getting older and deciding to go back and be near family.”

William Frey, who tracks census data for the Brookings Institution, said the metro area’s numerical increase last year was its largest since at least 2000. He said other Midwestern cities also saw upticks last year, while booming areas in the Sun Belt simultaneously saw a slowdown.

“I see this as part of a bigger kind of spreading out of the population than we’ve seen during the earlier years of the postrecession period,” Frey said.

Out of the country’s 25 largest metro areas, however, the Twin Cities 7.5 percent growth rate since 2010 ranks 17th. Peer areas like Denver and Seattle rank sixth and eighth, respectively.

The Twin Cities has outperformed its largest neighbor in the Midwest, however. The Chicago metro area has grown by less than 1 percent since 2010, and lost population last year.

The Twin Cities core continues to be a powerhouse of the state’s growth. The metro area’s seven primary counties (Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott and Washington) contain just over half of the state’s population. But they have accounted for 84 percent of the state’s growth since 2010, according to the Metropolitan Council.