The population boom along the Interstate 35 corridor shows San Antonio and Austin eventually could grow together into a mega metro region, the state demographer says after studying new census data.Hays and Comal counties — both of which hug I-35 and are wedged between San Antonio and Austin — were the fifth-and ninth-fastest-growing counties in the U.S. from July 2013 to July 2014, census estimates being released today show.
Both counties had moved up on the list from the previous year, when Hays was ranked the 10th-fastest-growing county in the U.S., while Comal was 22nd. Fort Bend County, southwest of Houston, was sixth on this year’s list.
The unrelenting growth indicates San Antonio and Austin one day will merge, said Lloyd Potter, the state’s demographer based at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
He called it a gravity phenomenon, with the two cities pulling populations toward each other. Assuming these trends continue, it’s more likely the two cities will “become more tied as a function of all the population and economic activity that’s occurring” between them.
Bexar County was not among the country’s fastest-growing counties in percentage terms. But Bexar was sixth in the U.S. for largest population increases from 2013 to 2014, growing by 34,000 people. The county’s total population now is 1.85 million, said Ben Bolender, chief of the population estimates branch at the census.
One of the recent transplants is Georgia native Dennis Giannakakis, 63, who moved here in 2012, several years after he retired. Always drawn to Texas as a child, when he fell in love with tales of the Alamo, he built a house in Boerne after scouring the Hill Country for a place he wanted to live.
A religious person, he felt drawn to his new city.
“When I went to Boerne,” Giannakakis said, “that’s where God told me I should live.”
He also felt like he had the best of all worlds. A cyclist and outdoorsman, he could enjoy recreation in the Hill Country but was close to urban San Antonio, which he loved, too.
Eventually, he remarried and, in 2013, the new couple moved into Hill Country Retreat, a 55-and-older community in the Alamo Ranch master-planned community in far Northwest Bexar County that’s among the fastest-growing parts of the region.
Like Giannakakis, his wife is also a transplant. She’s from Michigan and moved to San Antonio for a job at a health care company.
A little more than half of the population increase in Bexar County between 2013 and 2014 was due to net in-migration, people who have moved into Bexar County from outside, Potter said. The rest was from natural births.
In all, four Texas counties made the Top 10 list of those with the largest population increases: Harris County, which includes Houston, was first; Dallas County was eighth; and Tarrant County, which includes Fort Worth and Arlington, was 10th.
Overall, more people have moved to Texas than moved out since 2000, Bolender said. Texas also added more people than any state between 2013 and 2014, Potter said.
In terms of fastest-growing metro areas, Austin-Round Rock was third from 2013 to 2014. Odessa was fourth, down from second the previous year, and Midland was ninth, down from third, drops that Potter said could reflect a decline in shale oil activity in that region. Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land was 11th in this year’s estimates.
The San Antonio-New Braunfels metro area was ranked 24th fastest-growing in the country. Metro areas can include multiple cities and cross county boundaries.
It’s not too surprising that Bexar County didn’t make the fastest-growing list of counties. The larger the county, the smaller the growth rate, even if a lot of new people move there, Bolender said.
The fact that counties like Hays and Comal, with relatively smaller populations, are growing faster reflects that more people are moving into suburban ring counties that are close to large metro areas, Potter said. There’s more available land there to build, and more businesses and industries — and therefore, more jobs — are also plunking down in those areas. Plus, commuters have easy access to big cities.
Although it was knocked off the Top 10 list last year, Kendall County northwest of San Antonio — which includes the city of Boerne, many of whose residents commute to the Alamo City for work — was the fifth fastest-growing county in the U.S. from 2012 to 2013.
“Those suburban ring counties have places where they can create new households or new households can live, and there’s limited opportunity for that when you’re in the urban core,” Potter said.
San Antonio planning officials estimate the region’s population will increase by more than 1.1 million over the next 25 years, a population increase that has prompted the city to launch a major comprehensive planning effort.
But growth isn’t happening everywhere. Of the 254 counties in Texas, 95 counties experienced a population decline from 2013 to 2014, Potter said. email@example.com Twitter: @viannadavila