Hall County has officially surpassed the 200,000 population threshold.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s July 1, 2018, estimates, Hall County’s population has reached 202,148. This marks a 1.4% increase from the 2017 number of 199,439.
Tim Evans, vice president of economic development at the Great Hall Chamber of Commerce, said he wasn’t surprised by the benchmark number.
He said the chamber’s 2018 linear progression projection for Hall County calculated a population of 202,221.
“We’ve been adding around 3,000-4,000 people a year to Hall County,” Evans said. “Do the math, we’re well beyond 200,000.”
Evans said through examining new housing construction permits, the county has a track on the extent of the growth and where it’s happening.
He projects that the county’s population increases at 1.6-2% per year.
The people moving to Hall County, Evans finds, are relocating to spots around the area in disproportionate numbers.
Evans said the highest concentrations of growth are in South Hall and Gainesville.
Frank Norton Jr., CEO of the Norton Commercial and Acreage Group, said he has seen a strong movement south of Chicopee Woods, estimating a population of more than 100,000 people.
“We (The Norton Agency) have so many housing permits happening in Sterling on the Lake, Village at Deaton Creek and others that have renewed themselves post recession,” Norton said. “We exceeded 100,000 population in the last year or so.”
He said this includes about half of the area of the county, representing a quarter of its land mass.
Norton and Evans said the influx of new housing developments, and retirement and active-adult communities have played a huge factor in this steady growth. These developments include Cresswind at Lake Lanier, Mundy Mill and the aforementioned Sterling on the Lake and Village at Deaton Creek.
Evans said one of the area’s top real estate advisers said, “Atlanta is not coming to us, it is coming through us.”
With the increase of white-collar jobs around Sugarloaf Parkway, Evans has noticed that many people are choosing to live between Flowery Branch and Braselton. He said this is a popular destination for people working in North Gwinnett.
What this means for the county
Now that Hall County has passed 200,000 in population, Evans said this number represents a major milestone.
“It means that we’re growing into a different set of communities that we’ll be benchmarked or compared against,” he said.
The Milken Institute report ranked Gainesville-Hall County as third in the nation for best performing small city for 2017. The area received the third-place title again for 2018. Evans said this ranking was among cities under a population of 200,000.
“As we grow over 200,000 we’re going to be compared against bigger cities like Dallas, Atlanta and Chicago,” he said. “We’re moving into a different league, and that’s just for rankings.”
Although it may seem like Hall County is experiencing an all-time high in growth, both Norton and Evans said the fastest acceleration took place between 2000-2010.
Nearly 30 years ago, Evans said the area was thought of as a rural northeast Georgia community.
Norton said his agency has been selling houses in Hall County since 1928.
“We only had about 20,000 people then,” he said. “We’ve seen over those decades a tremendous population growth that has ebbed and flowed.”
When the recession in the U.S. hit around 10 years ago, Evans said many areas in Georgia had overbuilt residential developments; however, Hall County didn’t experience the same unused inventory. He found that this helped contribute to the county’s consistent growth.
Supporting a flourishing population
With an additional 3,000-4,000 people added onto the population per year, Evans said this puts pressure on the community, not just for roads and schools, but for infrastructure.
He said Hall County schools are currently reacting to the growth, hence the new Cherokee Bluff middle and high schools.
During a Hall County Board of Education meeting on Oct. 22, 2018, Hall County Schools projected $537 million in building, technology and other large ticket expenses over the next 10 years.
Superintendent Will Schofield said during the meeting’s presentation that the district needs to have a master plan and do what makes sense to protect the integrity of the area’s instructional programs.
The school system’s needed fixes and additional buildings result from a growing student population and aging buildings.
“We haven’t knocked down a school since before desegregation. I’m not sure that’s something we should be proud of,” Schofield said at the meeting. “We’ve got schools that have their infrastructure underneath them crumbling with terracotta pipes.”
Srikanth Yamala, Hall County’s director of planning and development, said the county has anticipated this growth. He said the forethought was based on population and employment projections as a part of the Hall County Comprehensive Plan.
“As we grow, we’ve got to continue to invest in schools, parks, greenspace, roads, water and sewer infrastructure,” Evans said. “And our utility partners need to invest in data, telecom, gas and electric.”
To prepare for this increase in population, Yamala said the Hall County Board of Commissioners have put in place policies essential to establishing future development that weigh land preservation with housing needs and economic development.
“While the county is excited and welcoming to the growth, our board, as well as staff is concentrating on providing quality development by encouraging flexible and design-based development with the sole purpose of preserving and protecting existing residential uses from any adverse impacts,” he said.
Norton said the biggest challenge the area faces is not only selling houses to accommodate the population, but connecting newcomers to the community.
He said the community needs to assimilate the population into the recreation and historical culture, and community spiritness.
“What we want to be is to have a lifestyle that people are becoming a part of the community,” he said. “They walk our parks, support our charities and enjoy all the fruits that have been laid before them. We don’t need to be selling rooftops, we need to be selling the community fabric.”