If the Atlanta Regional Commission’s projections come true, Hall County’s population will grow dramatically over the next 25 years.
The predicted demographic changes will have a major impact on key employment sectors, new commercial and residential development, health care costs and school development, according to local government officials and business leaders.
Hall County will add over 127,000 residents by 2040, bringing the total population to just over 328,000, according to the ARC forecast. That would mark a 64 percent increase.
The ARC’s 20-county Atlanta region, which includes Hall, will add 2.5 million people by 2040 for a total of more than 8 million.
Gwinnett, Fulton, Cobb and DeKalb will add the most people, but metro Atlanta’s outlying counties will grow at faster rates, according to the forecast.
The impact of a population surge in Hall will be felt differently in certain areas of the county.
For example, the urban core of Gainesville is attractive to newcomers who desire living near retail centers and public services, while South Hall caters to more affluent residents looking to escape the sprawl of metro Atlanta.
“The data does indicate that all of the local jurisdictions in Hall will need to plan for growth and the corresponding need for services, including transportation, public safety, parks and leisure services, and other health and human services,” Gainesville City Manager Bryan Lackey said. “It is a problem that many communities around this state and region would like to be faced with.”
Rusty Ligon, Gainesville’s community development director, said he is not surprised by the population projections for Hall given that the county and city each issued a record number of building permits in 2015.
“It’s obvious that Gainesville is a desirable location for both residential and commercial development,” Ligon said.
Ligon said meeting the demand for services and housing from new residents is something officials have been considering as they develop and implement new strategic plans to guide and manage growth downtown.
“We are working to attract residential development in and around the downtown area,” Ligon said.
Wanda Creel, superintendent of Gainesville city schools, said her team is constantly monitoring growth and development forecasts, and working closely with city planning officials and local business leaders to understand where changes are taking place in the community.
Determining funding, building capacity and capital spending priorities is dependent on good forecasts and understanding changing demographic needs, Creel said.
“We will just continue to look at the data in order to serve the individual needs of our students,” she added.
About 59 percent of students in Gainesville schools are Latino/Hispanic. That number is likely to grow based on the ARC forecast, which predicts that more than 80,000 new residents in 2040 will be Hispanic.
Creel said it will be imperative to attract and retain strong teachers with English-language teaching certifications as a result.
The ARC estimates that Hall’s population will be 42 percent Latino overall in 25 years, a jump from 28 percent in 2015.
“I think the analysis indicates that policy makers and local officials need to embrace and to respect the needs, challenges and opportunities of the growing strength of the Latino community,” Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, said.
As an example, Gonzalez said he hopes the estimates for Latino growth will persuade Gainesville officials to eliminate at-large voting for City Council elections, and replacing it with a district voting process where only voters in a particular geographic area select a candidate from their ward to represent them.
Frank Norton, president and CEO of The Norton Agency real estate firm in Gainesville, said he believes the estimates for Latino growth are too low.
“We’re going to end up with more than that,” he added.
Norton said Latinos/Hispanics already make up the backbone of the regional economy, working jobs in construction, food processing and automotive care, for example.
And housing is going to be needed for a new generation of owners.
Mimi Collins, CEO of The Longstreet Clinic in Gainesville, said Latinos are becoming better represented in local professions and community boards.
She expects this trend to only continue.
“If we’re a smart community, we look at it as an opportunity to engage,” Collins said.“I want us to challenge that preconceived idea that all of them will be on the lower end of the economic spectrum.”
The entire 20-county Atlanta region will add 1.5 million jobs by 2040, according to the ARC, and Hall’s economy will add 38,650 jobs — a growth rate of 41 percent.
Many of those jobs will come in retail. And retail tends to follow rooftops.
But a lack of affordable housing continues to be an “Achilles heel” and “our biggest challenge as a community,” Norton said.
Providing affordable places to rent and home will be critical to meeting the job and service demands of a growing population, but too many substandard, aging and costly units are a major drag, Norton said.
More diversity of housing choices is needed, as are more “in-town” units, he added.
The upside, Norton said, is that Gainesville and Hall remains more affordable than neighboring Forsyth County, which will grow at the fastest rate, according to the ARC forecast, with its population projected to more than double to 430,000 by 2040.
Norton said he estimates the cost of living to be 12 to 18 percent cheaper in Hall than Forsyth, making it attractive to working families.
The ARC predicts that the number of construction jobs in Hall will double by 2040.
Norton said he believes the ARC forecast is a conservative estimate. Now that the economic recession is fading from view, a new surge is likely.
“We’ve been in the population growth doldrums,” he said.
Hall County Commissioner Scott Gibbs said he too believes the estimates are on the low end.
“While I still think ARC may be underestimating, it is more in line with what we see coming down the line,” he added.
But the ARC projections provide county officials with new ammunition in their continued fight to prove that the proposed Glades Reservoir is needed to secure an adequate drinking water supply for local residents.
Officials with the state Environmental Protection Division said earlier this year that the proposed 850-acre reservoir in North Hall would only be needed to augment flow on the Chattahoochee River downstream of Lake Lanier.
That announcement came after new state population projections substantially lowered estimates for growth in Hall through 2050 to about 318,000 residents, or only 280,000 by 2040.
“We still stand behind our numbers,” Gibbs said. “It reflects our growth.”
The ARC forecasts that residents in Hall who are 65 and older will make up 17 percent of the population in 2040, up from 13 percent today.
The challenges of caring for new and aging residents are something that Collins, of The Longstreet Clinic, already finds concerning.
Today’s middle-aged adults are more obese than any previous generation, and medical complications that will arise in this demographic as they enter their 60s will be dramatic, Collins said.
“I think that is going to be a certain burden on our health care system and our community as we see that population grow,” she added.
The ARC predicts a surge in job growth in the health care sector, particularly among practitioners, across Hall over the next few decades.
They will be needed to handle the unique health care demands of a diverse community, including more Latinos and immigrants.
“We have to be aware of the cultural differences in our population,” Collins said. “It’s true that different ethnicities have different risk factors.”
Hall’s population boom to 300K by 2040 brings challenges