LAWRENCEVILLE -- While the number of new residents is a fraction of what it used to be, Gwinnett County still leads the 10-county metro region in growth, statistics released by the Atlanta Regional Commission Thursday show.
The estimate finds that 9,000 of the 37,200 who were added to the region between April 1, 2011 and April 1, 2012 were added in Gwinnett.
"We see population growth as a mixed blessing," said Gwinnett Chairwoman Charlotte Nash, who served as county administrator during periods of high growth. "It is good from the standpoint that it indicates people see Gwinnett as a good place to be, whether they are making decisions to move here or to stay here. However, growth is a challenge since it means that we must provide services to more residents despite shrinking revenues."
The pace is much slower than in the 1980s and 1990s and early 2000s, when the suburbs and specifically Gwinnett were among the fastest growing areas of the nation, but leaders said the numbers are still encouraging.
"While this growth is certainly slower than what we became accustomed to in the 90s and 2000s, this pace is laudable in the face of the economic pressures we face," ARC Executive Director Doug Hooker said, adding that the pace slowed four years ago with the economic recession. "This blip in our growth pattern allows the region and our local governments to catch our collective breaths and prepare for the return of more typical growth."
According to the U.S. Census the 28-county metropolitan statistical area of Atlanta area ranked third in overall growth between 2000 and 2010, adding more than 1 million people. But estimates slowed from the nearly 100,000 people per year added to the 10-county grouping. In the last two years combined, the area added 72,000 people.
Nash also noted that the ARC estimate for 2012 is just below the Census estimate for 2011, showing the population rates are hard to predict. For planning purposes, county officials use a number that is between the two estimates, she said.
"People just don't move as much when the economy is slow," said Mike Alexander, chief of ARC's Research Division. "And, considering that this recession started in the housing market and crippled that industry, property values have declined. That means fewer people are able to sell their homes and move to a different metro area."
Just last week, Gwinnett County Public Schools officials predicted the lowest student population growth number expected in decades, just 250 more expected this school year.
"It's reflective of the slowed growth in the county. The fact that we're still increasing at all is the most remarkable thing," School Board Member Robert McClure said.
ARC officials said none of the 10 metro counties lost population over the last year. Gwinnett led the region with 9,000 new residents, followed by Fulton's 7,900, DeKalb's 6,300 and Cobb's 5,900.