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Gainesville one of nations fastest growing metro areas
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Gainesville was the fourth fastest-growing metropolitan area in the U.S., according to Census Bureau estimates released Thursday.

In terms of percentage population gain, Gainesville ranked fourth nationally, with a 4.5 percent population gain. Palm Coast, Fla., was first, with a 7.2 percent growth rate.

"This means that we’re in a great place to live," said Kit Dunlap, president and chief executive of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.

Gainesville Councilman Robert L. "Bob" Hamrick said the news raises the city’s visibility on a larger scale.

"It really puts Gainesville on the map nationally," Hamrick said. "People will see this information and become curious to come and see all the good things we have."

Hall County first earned designation as the Gainesville Metropolitan Statistical Area in 2001. Hall County is part of the larger Combined Statistical Area known as the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Gainesville, GA-AL CSA, which includes the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta MSA and the Micro Statistical Areas of Cedartown, LaGrange and Thomaston, and Valley, Ala.

The Census Bureau said the population of the GainesvilleMSA was 180,175 on July 1, 2007. An increase of 7,784 from a year earlier when the population was 172,391.

U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Gainesville, said he was somewhat surprised by the population gain.

"I did not realize our growth was that much," Deal said. "One of the things we have heard is that we are losing Hispanic population because of the state statutes that went into effect last summer. I think that kind of growth indicates we are becoming more and more of a retirement community."

Deal said he has a number of fast-growing counties in his district, including Forsyth and Dawson, which have been among the fastest growing counties in the nation, according to the Census Bureau.

Denise Deal, executive director of Vision 2030, the community-based planning organization, said the news is good.

"I think we have a diamond in the rough right here," she said. "Those who have found it are not leaving and for those who come here find it is a great place to live, work, play and stay."

The Atlanta area was among the nation’s top population gainers in 2006 and 2007, continuing a population shift to the South and West.

The Atlanta metro area saw the second-largest population jump with just over 151,000 new residents.

"Atlanta is No. 2 of the larger MSAs, so it makes sense for us to be No. 4 overall," Dunlap said. "We do have the lake, we do have the mountains and it’s a good place to retire."

Dallas-Fort Worth added more than 162,000 residents between July 2006 and July 2007, more than any other metro area. Phoenix was third with more than 132,000, and was followed by Houston, Riverside, Calif.; Charlotte, N.C.; Chicago; Austin, Texas; Las Vegas and San Antonio.

And in the past seven years, the Atlanta region has added a little more than a million people — more than any other region in the country. The metro area’s population is now more than 5.2 million.

"The Atlanta area is viewed as a place of opportunity," said Mike Alexander, research division chief of the Atlanta Regional Commission.

And census projections show Georgia could gain about 4 million people by the year 2030.

Consistent job gains among small companies has been the growth engine for the region, said Sam Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. Metro Atlanta saw a net growth of 55,000 jobs last year, he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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