Population boom continues
County's march to minority-majority status speeds on

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett's growth has continued at a "remarkable" rate, the Atlanta Regional Commission said Thursday, as the entire region passed the 4 million population mark.

"ARC planners are just amazed to see Gwinnett County continue to grow year after year as it has continued to grow," spokeswoman Julie Ralston said. "It's very unusual to see a county this large continue to grow this much. It's quite rare in this country."

The planning agency, which covers a 10-county area, estimated that Gwinnett added 20,600 residents since this time last year for a total population of 740,200 people. The region added 104,000 people, bringing the total residents to 4,029,400.

For the second year in a row, Gwinnett's growth was topped by Fulton County. Ralston said that county added 33,400 new people, growth that was aided by more than 12,000 people who moved into the city of Atlanta in the past year.

She said reaching the 4 million-person milestone was major for the region, and indicated that metro Atlanta will continue to be a magnet for new residents.

"It's not just the suburbs that are growing," Ralston said. "It's the central city. We have a very healthy region, from the core out."

Ralston said metro Atlanta added more people than Los Angeles, New York and Chicago, cities three and four times Atlanta's size. The 10-county region now has more residents than 24 states.

Henry County, which added 8,800 residents, was the fastest-growing county in the region with a 6.5 percent growth rate.

While Gwinnett's growth rate has slowed slightly - from 3.4 percent from 2000 to 2006, to 3.3 percent from 2000 to 2007 - the county is the fourth largest on the Census Bureau's list of the 100 fastest-growing counties.

Charles Bannister, chairman of the Gwinnett's Board of Commissioners, said some of the slowing is a result of fewer high-density developments being approved. He said the county has been issuing fewer building permits and many of the people who have moved in are coming for the county's schools and businesses.

"The good news of Gwinnett travels fast," he said. "It's quite helpful. Even though the numbers are slower, it's still growth, and growth is good. If you quit growing, you die."

Ralston said she expected that more people continue to move in because Gwinnett has a variety of housing options, a growing job base, good schools and a high quality of life.

"It's remarkable," Ralston said. "A county starts to slow once they have a large population. Usually, when you see fast-growing counties, they have smaller population bases. Gwinnett has a lot of population and it's growing really fast. To continue to have a high rate of growth is very unusual."

She also said that Census data for 2006, released Thursday, indicated that many of Gwinnett's new residents are likely minorities. Since 2000, the county has added 163,470 minority residents.

Gwinnett's minority population is now 47.2 percent, but Judy Hadley, in the governor's office of planning and budget, said it will still be a couple of years before the county becomes majority-minority.

"You're close, but not quite yet," she said.

Ralston said the numbers are a further example for how much the region is diversifying.

"There are all nationalities, all races," she said. "It's making the region more international."