Gwinnett adds 137,825 in five years

LAWRENCEVILLE - Only 12 counties nationwide grew more than Gwinnett County during the past five years, according to Census estimates released today.

From 2000 to 2005 Gwinnett added 137,825 residents, giving it a total population of 726,273 - good enough for 74th largest county in the nation.

That's up one spot from the previous year when Gwinnett bypassed DeKalb County on the Census Bureau's top 100 population list to become the second largest county in Georgia. Fulton County is the largest.

Alfie Meek, who heads the county's economic analysis division, isn't surprised by the latest estimates. After all, they came within a whisker of matching projections he devised several years ago.

His calculations put Gwinnett at 726,723 people in 2005, or 450 more residents than the Census estimates.

"Obviously that number came in about what we expected," Meek said.

If Meek's projections hold up, Gwinnett will hit 1 million residents about 2018. It will happen sooner, though, if Gwinnett continues averaging 27,565 new residents per year like it has since 2000.

That amount of newcomers is twice the annual population increase seen by Cobb County to the west.

Gwinnett Chairman Charles Bannister said good schools and relatively affordable homes draw people to Gwinnett.

"The one factor that I hear from everybody who talks about Gwinnett is Gwinnett's school system," Bannister said. "The quality of life that we have in Gwinnett County would be the next biggest factor."

Growth is nothing new for Gwinnett, which has added an army of people each year since the '70s, but one thing has changed in recent years, said county Planning Division Director Steve Logan.

Whites no longer make up a majority of the people moving to Gwinnett County, he said.

"I think the difference in recent years has been the diversity," Logan said. "We're seeing a much different type of population growth than we saw through the '70s, '80s and '90s."

In a sign that growth has pushed beyond Gwinnett's borders, Barrow County was the 24th fastest-growing county from 2000 to 2005. It added 13,810 people, for a 29.9 percent growth rate.

Its estimated population is 59,954 - less people than Gwinnett adds every two years.