In 2010, the San Marcos City Council voted to make the city’s motto “We’d love your company.”
They got company all right.
The U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday named San Marcos the fastest-growing city in the country for the third consecutive year. Its estimated population is now 58,892, which is 30 percent more than it was when the council adopted the motto in 2010. The city has roughly doubled since 1990.
Austin’s 2.9 percent population increase was the most among any city with more than 250,000 residents. It now has an estimated 912,791 residents, making it the 11th-largest U.S. city.
The growth in the capital city has been spilling out into the historically sparse towns surrounding it, causing several Central Texas cities to join San Marcos near the top of the overall fastest-growing list: Georgetown was second, New Braunfels was 13th and Cedar Park came in at 24th.
The boom in San Marcos has had additional fuel from increasing enrollment at Texas State University, which is in a period of massive expansion as it strives to become a major university. More than 36,000 students attend the university.
How to manage the population explosion has become the No. 1 political issue in San Marcos, where development and business interests often face off against environmental advocates and people who want the city to stay small.
Hays County Commissioner Will Conley, who is from San Marcos and represents part of it, said he wants to see development that will encourage higher-income residents to move in and bolster the local economy.
“It’s no longer about if we’re going to grow or not. It’s about the quality of that growth,” he said. “There’s certainly a migration of people coming into Hays County and San Marcos because of the low cost of living. But income levels have been low in San Marcos historically for some time, so there’s just more of us now.”
In Georgetown, with an estimated population of 59,102, the “growth issue” is always on the minds of city officials, said Mark Thomas, the city’s economic development director. There are about 25,000 new homes in some stage of development in Georgetown or its extraterritorial jurisdiction, Thomas said.
“If you think what that means in magnitude to a city of 50,000, that’s pretty staggering,” he said.
City officials are working with developers to create more jobs so that people can live and work in Georgetown, Thomas said. “In a general way, that takes the people off the highways so it affects the transportation issue,” he said.
Georgetown voters approved $105 million in road bonds on May 9 to help with traffic issues.
To calculate the growth rankings, the Census Bureau looks only at cities with populations greater than 50,000. That has the effect of overemphasizing gains made by cities on the lower end of the spectrum such as the fast-growing but still small suburbs in Central Texas.
New York City, for example, gained the most people last year with 52,700 — almost the population of San Marcos — but it is not near the top of the fastest-growing list because it would take many more people to significantly move the needle in a city of 8.4 million.
Unlike the results of the once-a-decade census survey, annual figures from the bureau are estimates based on sampling and trends, not a head count, and are consequently less reliable.
Central Texas cities among nation’s fastest-growing:
1. San Marcos (population 58,892): 7.9 percent growth in 2014
2. Georgetown (59,102): 7.6 percent
13. New Braunfels (66,394): 4.8 percent
24. Cedar Park (63,574): 3.7 percent
45. Austin (912,791): 2.9 percent
Source: U.S. Census Bureau population estimates for 2014