Pflugerville’s growth picked up speed in 2016-17, as Austin’s waned


Pflugerville showed the third-largest growth rate among U.S. cities with at least 50,000 residents.

Hampered by rising housing costs, Austin added 12,515 people — its smallest increase since at least 2011.

Pflugerville Mayor Victor Gonzales’ early memories of the city include three saloons, a couple of gas stations and a sign hanging in the town center: Population 257.

With the addition of retail stores, good schools and an expansive tollway, the early 1960s bedroom community has developed into a bustling Austin suburb, evident by population estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Pflugerville had the third-largest growth rate among American cities with at least 50,000 residents from July 2016 to July 2017. It had a net gain of 3,852 newcomers, or 6.5 percent. That covered births, deaths and migration.

Only Frisco and New Braunfels — two other Texas cities — witnessed greater percentage spikes.

“Kind of sends chills up my back, but I’m excited about it,” Gonzales said Wednesday.

Texas claims many of the fastest-growing cities with populations of over 50,000, as Georgetown (sixth), McKinney (ninth), Flower Mound (11th) and Cedar Park (13th) cracked the list. San Antonio had the biggest population increase with its 24,208 edging Phoenix’s 24,036. Dallas and Fort Worth were third and fourth, respectively.

Leander exploded with a 14 percent population increase, tops in the U.S. for a city under 50,000 population, and added 6,041 residents — more than Pflugerville’s 3,852.

Rapid growth in Pflugerville and Leander coincides with a bit of a slowdown for Austin. Hampered by rising housing costs, the capital city added 12,515 people, a 1.3 percent climb — its smallest since at least 2011.

It was the third year in a row the city’s population increase was below 20,000.

“This is the inevitable result of extremely expensive land prices in the city and much more affordable land prices outside of the city,” Austin demographer Ryan Robinson said.

Robinson said he expected to see slower growth than in recent years, “but I didn’t expect it to be this low.” Austin’s growth share of the five-county region that includes Travis, Hays, Williamson, Bastrop and Caldwell counties dipped to 22.6 percent — in 2014, Austin’s share of the total growth was more than twice as much.

Emily Chenevert, CEO of Austin Board of Realtors, said that despite Austin’s slower growth, its housing market continues to shatter records.

“While the pace at which annual home sales and prices are increasing is beginning to normalize, indicating a more stable market, affordability remains a concern for residents,” she said.

The median sales price for an Austin home hit $299,900 in 2017.

Havens of affordability

Pflugerville for years has been an affordable alternative to Austin, particularly for families on the east side with lower incomes who no longer can live comfortably in Austin as home values and property taxes rise. The migration patterns of people who leave Austin has not been studied, but the city to the northeast has long drawn people priced out of East Austin.

Travis County Commissioner Jeff Travillion, who is black, left Austin for Pflugerville in 1996. He said that at high school football games he commonly runs into former Austinites who moved to Pflugerville and other Austin suburbs.

Pflugerville is home to 63,359 people — a 14,000-plus increase since 2010.

Travillion attributed the city’s growth to the same things that appealed to him and his wife 20 years ago, like green spaces, quality schools and parks. Pflugerville has added big box retail stores since then, and Baylor Scott & White Health will launch a hospital in October, down the road from a Costco that will open in July.

Pflugerville Chamber of Commerce CEO Shontel Mays said companies come “because of our affordability, infrastructure and business-friendly environment.”

The diversity of the 33 schools that make up Pflugerville’s school district has grown with the city. In 2016-17, Hispanics made up 48 percent of students in the district. African-Americans were 16 percent and Asians 7 percent.

The student population more than doubled in the past 20 years to 24,591. In the late 1990s, white students accounted for 58 percent of the school district’s enrollment.

“I think we were on the front side of a very positive wave,” Travillion said.

Space exists for additional population growth in East Pflugerville and on its north end along Texas 45, Mayor Gonzales said. He projected that within the next five years the city and its adjacent neighborhoods could bring in 10,000 to 15,000 more people.

He said it’ll be important to uphold the city’s motto: Where quality meets life.

“I think we’ve always been at the right place,” Gonzales said. “But now is the right time.”

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