Suburban counties in the Austin and San Antonio metropolitan areas were among the fastest-growing in the nation between 2016 and 2017, according to figures the Census Bureau released late Wednesday.
In the Austin area, Hays, Williamson and Caldwell counties were among the fast-growing at 4.96 percent, 3.75 percent and 2.99 percent, respectively. Caldwell County, which abuts Travis County to the south, saw its largest growth rate this decade.; its previous annual growth rates since 2010 were under 2 percent.
Among metro areas with more than 1 million people, the five-county Austin area was the fastest-growing for the seventh consecutive year.
The agency estimated population changes between July 1, 2016, and July 1, 2017.
Amelia Smith, who’s worked in real estate in Caldwell County for more than 30 years, attributed the area’s growth to lighter traffic and lower cost of living.
“The toll road is becoming increasingly popular,” Smith said of Texas 130. “Even though it is expensive to drive, it is a flash trip from Austin to Lockhart. I live in Lockhart, and I can get to Onion Creek in about 18 minutes. It’s fast.”
“People in Austin, particularly in the east side, are seeing property values rise so much that the land their $100,000 house sits on is worth $700,000 or $800,000, and they’re being driven out by high taxes, and they’re coming to Lockhart with proceeds from their sale and buying houses (with) cash. … We’re seeing a lot of that.”
Also, under a new Lockhart school superintendent, the district is working toward becoming one of the best in Central Texas, which might be another draw, Smith said.
Closer to San Antonio, Comal County grew by almost 7,000 people to just more than 140,000 people, giving the county the second-fastest growth nationally among counties with populations of 10,000 people or more, according to the Census Bureau. In 2016, Comal County ranked as the seventh-fastest-growing county in America. Business leaders in New Braunfels, the county seat, credit the increase to a lower cost of living and its proximity to two large cities.
“I love the accessibility,” said Rashmi Baht, who used to live in Houston and owns a European deli inspired in part by her childhood in Europe. “It’s really close to Austin and San Antonio, but you don’t have the cost of living that those cities have, nor do you have the traffic.”
Lee and Jennifer Garza, co-owners of an insurance franchise in New Braunfels, both grew up and have family in the area and returned as they began their family, after living and working in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The growing population was an incentive to return home, Lee Garza said.
“That was one of the major reasons why it was easy for us to make the decision to move here,” he said. “It provided a lot of opportunity career- and business-wise. … It had a lot of advantages for my family and me.”
Employment opportunities drove population growth in suburban counties in the San Antonio-Austin corridor, state demographer Lloyd Potter told the American-Statesman.
“The bulk of their growth (in Texas suburban counties) — 80 to 90 percent — is from domestic migration, and that’s people moving from other counties in Texas, but also from other counties or other states within the United States,” he said. “Usually, when you see growth that’s occurring from domestic migration like that, in those fast-growing counties, it’s happening because jobs are being created.”
Eight of the 15 counties nationally that gained the most people between 2016 and 2017 were in Texas. Travis County was 15th, with a gain of 22,116 people. Harris County, No. 4 nationally and No. 1 in Texas, saw an increase of nearly 36,000 people.
“Texas dominates overall,” Potter said. “Our counties dominate what we’re seeing in terms of population growth nationwide.”