Recent estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau report what Gainesville officials already knew: The city is getting bigger. But it may not be growing as fast as it has in the past.
The Census Bureau estimates that Gainesville’s population has grown 36 percent since the last official census to 34,818 in July 2007, and City Manager Bryan Shuler says most of the growth came with annexations, additional housing and migration.
Chamber of commerce officials say they are not shocked that there are at least 9,000 more people living in the city since the 2000 census.
"We have the quality of life that makes people want to move here," said Tim Evans, vice president for economic development for the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.
Gainesville’s growth this decade is merely a continuation of a population spurt that started here in the late 1980s, said Doug Bachtel, a demographer at the University of Georgia.
Bachtel attributes the growth to at least two factors: Hall County’s proximity to Atlanta and local jobs that result from what he called "Gwinnett spillover."
"(Growth is) going to continue," Bachtel said. "You can’t make a fence big enough to keep them out."
Yet Bachtel said the reasons for the area’s rapid growth are too dynamic to pin on one reason.
"It’s jobs, proximity, scenic beauty — the whole nine yards," Bachtel said. "As all the new people move in ... you need Realtors and attorneys and doughnuts and restaurants and dry cleaners and all that stuff, so it’s sort of a synergistic effect and it feeds on itself."
The city’s pro-growth attitude and access to interstate highways and other secondary transportation veins make growth more easily accessible, but the area’s ongoing drought could dry it up in the future.
Shuler admits that earlier in the decade, the city’s growth was faster than in the past couple of years.
Census estimates indeed show the city’s growth slowed slightly from 2006 to 2007 while other cities’ populations exploded, and Shuler said he expects the numbers to show another slowdown in Gainesville’s once-rapid growth next year.
But Shuler attributes the slowing growth to an even slower economy that city officials witness as fewer building permits are purchased and water and sewer lines do not get tapped as often.
"I don’t think that’s not unexpected given if we look at what’s been happening with construction and jobs," Shuler said.
Shuler said Gainesville is no doubt still growing, but knows the rate of growth will be even lower next year if economic conditions continue.
"... I don’t know that I think the drought is contributing to the slowing of growth. ... Those factors are more driven by the overall economy."
As of yet, the drought has not had an impact on census numbers. But those numbers may not reflect the drought’s impact on growth until the 2008 estimates are calculated.
"There’s only so much you can do without water, and it’s not water to drink, it’s water to flush," Bachtel said. "Without that, your housing is stopped, and your business (too) — at the mall, you’re not going to have Port-A-Potties."
Until then, growth "just keeps on honking on, picking up steam with more jobs, more spillover, better transportation, continued growth and secondary job opportunities," Bachtel said.
Harris Blackwood contributed to this report.
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