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Census: Texas has 3 of 5 fastest-growing cities

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Posted: Friday, May 23, 2014 4:30 am

Three of the nation’s five fastest-growing cities with more than 50,000 residents — and seven of the top 15 — are in Texas, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau, part of a trend across the west largely fueled by an oil boom. Most of the cities are west of the Mississippi.

San Marcos, Frisco and Cedar Park were No. 1, 2 and 4 in percentage population growth between 2012 and 2013, each growing by at least 5 percent in that time span.

Killeen 162nd

Killeen ranked 162nd on the list, growing 1.6 percent between July 1, 2012, and July 1, 2013. The city grew by 2,132 residents to an estimated population of 137,147, according to Census Bureau figures.

Utah had two of the top five cities: South Jordan, at No. 3, and Lehi, at No. 5.

The rapidly growing cities need to have enough roads, schools, water and infrastructure to keep up — the growing pains of a surging population. And while it is viewed as opportunity, city planners are frazzled.

Odessa, smack-dab in the middle of the oil-rich Permian Basin, is No. 11 on the Census Bureau list. People are flooding the oil fields, booming thanks to new hydraulic fracturing technologies that allow drillers access to once out-of-reach resources.

People are lured by higher-than-average salaries, but developers can’t build homes quickly enough, the schools are rapidly filling and an overburdened water supply, made worse by a long drought, is stretched thin.

“It’s a challenge to continue to provide services to the rising population when you’re competing with the same workforce and labor that the oil field is. So that means that the municipalities have to adjust their pay scale ... to try to attract the labor,” said Richard Morton, Odessa’s city manager. “We’re growing, but we’re not growing fast enough.”

8 percent growth

San Marcos — a city between Austin and San Antonio — topped the list of expanding cities with more than 50,000 people for the second year in a row, showing growth of 8 percent between July 2012 and 2013 to 54,076 people.

Mayor Daniel Guerrero noted that while the city has enjoyed steady growth for years, and set aside money to keep up, not everything has gone as planned. The Great Recession and a sudden rise in costs forced San Marcos to delay major construction. Now, it is rushing to lay down new roads, expand existing ones, add bike paths and repair or replace old utility pipelines.

“So throughout San Marcos you see a multitude of construction,” Guerrero said.

Other Central Texas cities high on the Census Bureau list are New Braunfels, ranked 18th; Pflugerville, 21st; Round Rock, 34th. Austin ranked 60th and College Station, 72nd.

Big cities

And then there are the biggest cities. While by population increase, New York City still topped the charts, growing by 61,440 people in 2012 to 8.4 million people in 2013, several Texas cities, including Houston grew rapidly.

Houston’s surge of 35,202 people to 2.2 million in 2013 also has been fueled by oil, said Andy Icken, the city’s chief development officer. The refineries, the port, the technology and many oil company headquarters are in the city and its suburbs, and employees are moving in.

That pace, he said, will not let up, and so Houston is studying how to improve a crucial network of freeways that connects the sprawling city.

“The industries are all doing well,” Icken added, noting rapid growth in Houston’s medical center. “That has consequences to the city of Houston.”

‘Used to it’

Frisco, a suburb about 30 miles north of Dallas, has had growth “so long and sustained that we’re used to it,” Mayor Maher Maso said. Just 15 years ago, there were only five schools in Frisco’s main school district. Now, there are 56 and seven under construction, he said.

Those numbers tell the story of who’s moving in. The city’s median age is 34, one-third of the population is younger than 17 and about 10 percent are younger than age 5. Maso said this has translated into an active community.

“People are involved out here, they value their children’s education, they value public safety,” he said, noting a $775 million school bond passed with a margin of nearly 80 percent.

Water woes

For Texas, though, water is a concern, highlighted by years of debilitating drought.

Conservation is key, Maso said, and his city has distributed rain-water barrels, changed reuse policies and is trying to make better arrangements to get water from a river on the Oklahoma border.

“That resource is challenging and we have to change the way we do things,” he said.Herald STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS

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