Bartow County at 100,000: 'Magic number' brings change
by Jessica Loeding
Mar 27, 2011 | 2602 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bartow County looks very different than it did just 20 years ago and, with development prospects on the horizon, will undoubtedly look different just 10 years from now.

Census data released since December, when apportionment counts were delivered to the president, paint a picture of Bartow as a fast-growing county in the ninth most populous state. Surpassing 100,000 residents for the first time presents opportunities and a new set of challenges for the county.

Political, educational and economic changes come with the decennial Census. While the information released in the first months of the year show Georgia gaining a 14th Congressional district, details of those residing in Bartow will not become available for some time.

The U.S. Census Bureau is required by law to send apportionment counts to the president within nine months of Census Day, which was on or before Dec. 31, 2010. That report contains apportionment population counts, by state, and the number of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives apportioned to each state.

Public Law 94-171 requires the Census Bureau to provide only counts of the total population for a variety of geographic areas to be used for the redistricting process. In addition, other data items such as race, ethnicity, voting age and housing unit tallies are included in this data set. P.L. 94-171 also requires that these data be delivered to each state no later than April 1, 2011, according to the Census Bureau. Other 100-percent data products such as demographic profiles, summary files of aggregated data, and reports will be released on a flow basis from April 2011 through September 2013.

A look at Bartow's population and the surrounding area

Perhaps one of the most talked about local tidbits of the 2010 report was the eclipse of Floyd County in population for the first time. Bartow grew more than 31 percent from 2000 to 2010, while Floyd's growth rate was 6.4 percent.

A glance at surrounding counties show those along interstates grew at a more rapid pace. Cherokee, Gordon and Pickens saw a 25 percent-plus increase in population. Although Cobb's boom slowed to between 5 and 15 percent growth, Paulding County was also in the 25 percent-plus range.

According to the Census, Bartow County's population was reported at 100,157 in 2010. Floyd had 96,317; Gordon, 55,186; Cherokee, 214,346; Cobb, 688,078; Paulding, 142,324; and Polk, 41,475.

The state's population swelled to nearly 9.7 million, up from nearly 8.2 million in 2000. Georgia is now the country's ninth most populous, up from 10th a decade ago. It grew at a rate of 18.3 percent -- outpacing the national growth of 9.7 percent.

A vast amount of the growth occurred in north Georgia, with the southwest corner of the state shouldering the largest portion of population loss. Likewise, nine counties in east Georgia near the South Carolina line reported a loss.

The Census report released earlier this month shows Forsyth, Carroll and Henry counties leading growth in the metro area, adding 78.4 percent, 74 percent and 70.9 percent respectively.

Of Georgia's five largest cities, only Athens showed considerable growth, adding about 15 percent. Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus and Savannah all added less than 4 percent over the last 10 years.

Bartow County Administrator Steve Bradley said that although Bartow has hit a milestone, the growth was not as swift as that seen in the 20 years prior to 2000.

"We grew during the decades of the '80s and the '90s faster than we did in during the decade of 2000 at a percentage rate of growth, not more people but in the percentage rate of growth. A lot of that was from the planning effort," he said.

According to Bradley, Bartow's annual rate of growth in the 1980s was 3.7 percent, 3.6 percent in the 1990s and only 3.2 percent annually from 2000 to 2010. The decrease was attributed to the economic downturn.

In 1997, Bartow County conducted a public survey, which included a group of citizens, to begin planning for future growth. Out of the survey and focus group the county developed a growth management plan, which Bradley said has helped the county grow responsibly to meet the demands of a booming population.

"The way we managed that was once we identified the planning units within our growth management strategies, we knew that the key to controlling that growth -- or managing that growth, cause you can't really control growth in the sense that you can just stop growth -- the way we managed that growth was we have infrastructure, and we didn't run out all over the country and put in water lines and sewer lines and things like that all over the county because we knew where we thought growth ought to occur based on ... the community feedback," he said.

Although the county's growth management plan population estimate in 2000 missed the mark by only 100 -- the county had 76,019 people -- the population guess for 2010 was off by more than 20,000.

"We had projected through 2010, 123,570," said Bradley, adding that although the county would not have reached that number the economy played a part in keeping the population lower.

"I can tell from looking at the numbers we did have we probably would not have reached that 123,000 that [the plan] projected," he said. "Without growth management the population would have exceeded the number we are at and it would have exceeded our projections. ... Had that happened, had we grown at that rate, two things would have happened: we would have exceeded our capacity to provide the infrastructure to match the growth, and the downturn, as far as its impacts on local government, would have been a lot harder because we would have had that many more people to provide for with a lot less revenue.

"In other words some of the counties are having a tougher time because they grew a lot faster than we did."

Commissioner Clarence Brown sees the positive possibilities of reaching a six-figure population. "I think 100,000 is a magic number. Now could I be wrong about that? Sure."

Economic growth and changes

One of the aspects of a growing population repeated by county officials is corresponding commercial growth. While Bartow has long been associated with industry and manufacturing, the commercial expansion is oft overlooked.

"In the last 10 years, we've had substantial commercial growth. You've had commercial growth in Adairsville, you've had the beginning of commercial growth you are seeing in Emerson now," Bradley said. "So there was that dynamic for commercial growth that was associated with the population increase. We feel like there's more growth both probably on the industry front and the commercial front that will occur once the economy, once people get a feel that the economy has not only stabilized ... and is growing strong again. We are a community that is being targeted by certain industries and commercial enterprises."

Brown agreed, saying his office is seeing a lot of activity with "a lot of people coming."

"We have an old saying, 'You talk to about 100 before you get one of them,'" the commissioner said.

And the possibilities he sees are linked to the 100,000 population mark.

"You'll see a lot of things in Rome that might now start looking at Bartow County, like the restaurants, but there are other businesses, too. We think [100,000 people] will give that certain attention to the commercial developers," he said.

That is encouraging for those seeking an Olive Garden or Steak 'n Shake.

Melinda Lemmon, executive director of Cartersville-Bartow County Department of Economic Development, said the population growth brings opportunities for commercial development. "Commercial businesses seek customers. All businesses seek quality workforce."

According to data from the 2011 Bartow Economic Outlook Presentation, Bartow County lost 92 businesses from 2007 to 2010 and 618 employees from 2009 to 2010.

Lemmon said information at the local level tracks major announcements or layoffs, which may actually be narrower and more accurate than national or state data because the county works directly with the companies.

Toyo Tire and the expansion of Yanmar's Adairsville location are just a few of the examples of major manufacturing change in the past 10 years. And LakePoint Sport's announcement of a 1,400-acre development in Emerson in December could present a very different Bartow when the 2020 Census rolls around. LakePoint's projected buildout would come in the next 10 years, if plans proceed as expected.

Federal funding also could impact Bartow County's economic profile. The government allots dollars based on population and demographics.

"A lot of federal funds come back to the states and the local levels based on population," Bradley said. "Obviously those areas that have had more growth will receive more federal funds than they would have had without the growth. So, with Georgia being one of the high-growth states, there will be more federal funding, we expect, coming our way now. The state sometimes administers some of those federal funds that then go out to the local governments and a lot of times that's based upon the percentage of the overall population. That does mean dollars to Bartow County, it does mean dollars to the state of Georgia that we have had that population growth."

And the state's assistance can be beneficial.

"To be competitive we have to have the state's help. We would not have had Toyo Tire without the governor's help. I can tell you the incentives were too high. Even at that rate, they could have had more in Alabama," Brown said. "When Georgia is competitive, they are competitive in a county."

Bartow County grant writer Valerie Gilreath said reaching 100,000 could go either way.

"My concern is that going over 100,000 will preclude us from qualifying for rural grants. A lot of the [United States Department of Agriculture] grants deal with that qualification," she said. "It's not really a plus or a minus as far as I'm concerned. A higher population carries with it a higher need. Poverty rises proportionally. It could be that the higher population could help us demonstrate need in certain areas such as water and sewer lines."

Lemmon pointed out that a larger population creates an increasing demand, a problem in uncertain economic times.

"When comparing the service needs of an ever-growing community with the economic realities of shrinking resources, then you have the common denominator of many challenges, namely 'do more with less,'" she said. "Local governments, nonprofits and for-profit organizations are all impacted and therefore interested in the Census results."

Political change

Bartow County will feel the political effects of having more citizens -- at both the local and national level.

Georgia will gain a seat in the U.S. Congress as a result of 2010's Census data. The state's representation will increase, adding a 14th Congressional district. To accommodate, the state's reapportionment committee will review detailed Census numbers as they arrive next year to draw new maps defining Congressional districts.

Representing Bartow County, Congressman Phil Gingrey, R-Marietta, said after hearing of Georgia's additional seat.

"I am reviewing the Census data released today and will continue analyzing it in the coming weeks. While I am certainly pleased that Georgia will have an additional seat in the United States House of Representatives, we will not know where the 14th Congressional District will be until our state lawmakers begin drawing the new maps. All Georgians should take pride in knowing that increased representation in Congress is testament to the economic growth and high quality of life for which our state is known," stated Gingrey.

Although the location of the new district is unknown, speculation has been rumored for areas throughout metro-Atlanta, northeast Georgia and northwest Georgia including Bartow County. State Rep. Paul Battles, R-Cartersville, reiterated the uncertainty of any claim until further Census data is released and the maps are drawn.

"We know that naturally, the greatest area of growth has been around metro-Atlanta. ... And how it reflects on our congressmen we don't know yet and we won't know until we get those numbers," Battles said. "Right now everything is dependent on the census and how the numbers shake out. It will determine whether we're in a new congressional district or not.

"Right now no one knows, everyone is speculating. Some say it will have an affect on Bartow County, some say it probably will not. It might be that we're in a new congressional district or we might be cut in half. We don't know right now until we get the census numbers back and they start working on the maps. We have no clue how it will effect us."

Georgia's 18.3 percent growth places seventh in growth percentage between 2000 and 2010. Georgia is one of eight states gaining in representation with the largest gain in Texas adding four seats. Ten states, however, will lose at least one seat while 32 will see no change. All representation changes will be reflected in the 2012 election taking office in 2013.

Exact growth numbers will be analyzed by the Georgia General Assembly during their 2011 session before going to Gov. Nathan Deal for final approval. The issue does, however, threaten to be a challenge. Battles referenced to the 2001 redistricting that resulted in a court ruling on the matter and expects the legislature will return to the Capitol during the summer for a final vote.

"They re-draw lines to represent or to take in that area and provide them with representation that is afforded them by law," Battles said. "It's a process. We just have to go through the process, draw the maps and be as fair as we possibly can."

Bartow County and Cartersville school districts will be tweaked to represent the change in population. Any changes would be minor, however.

Changes in racial makeup

Data coming out this year have shown the state's racial makeup has become more diverse.

Georgia's Hispanic population nearly doubled over the past 10 years and now represents just less than 9 percent of the state's population, according to Census numbers released Thursday.

The local Census figures show that Georgia's Hispanic population numbered 865,689 in 2010, compared with 435,227 in 2000. That's an increase of 96.1 percent. The state's overall population grew 18.3 percent over the same time period, jumping from nearly 8.2 million to nearly 9.9 million.

"They just joined the rest of the crowd moving to Georgia for the job opportunities," Doug Bachtel, a demographer at the University of Georgia, said of the enormous growth of the Hispanic population.

But he added that he believes the Hispanic population estimate is grossly underestimated, at least in part because Hispanics who are in the country illegally may have shied away from the count. Many of the Hispanics who contributed to the recorded growth likely are not new arrivals to the country, he said. Instead, they likely are people whose families have lived elsewhere in the country, perhaps for generations, and who recently moved to Georgia in search of jobs.

In Bartow County, the Hispanic population grew more than 4 percent. In 2000, 2,524 people, or 3.3. percent of the population, marked Hispanic or Latino on the Census form. In 2010, 7,690, or 7.7 percent, did the same.

Reflecting the national trend that saw the black population shift South, more than 600,000 blacks moved to Georgia in the past decade, and African-Americans now total nearly 3 million statewide, or 31 percent of the population. Bartow County's black population increased from 6,600, or 8.7 percent, in 2000 to 10.2 percent, or 10,178, in 2010.

Numerically, whites continue to make up the majority of Georgians, at nearly 5.8 million people, or 60 percent of the statewide population -- down from 65 percent in 2000 and a change of nearly 9 percent. Whites continue to make up a vast majority of Bartow's population, but the percentage of whites decreased from 87.8 percent in 2000 to 82.7 percent in 2010.

The state's changing demographics will also factor heavily into the state's politics, particularly with regard to the upcoming redistricting battle. Because the minority populations are concentrated, districts will be overwhelmingly partisan and racially homogenous -- which bodes well for Georgia Republicans, said Georgia State University political science professor Steve Anthony.

"There are no swing districts anymore," he said. "Most of the people moving to Georgia are white and they're bringing their voting patterns with them from the North and the Midwest. And those voting patterns are Republican."

Edward DuBose, president of the Georgia chapter of the NAACP, said the black population growth could be a mixed blessing.

"This is an opportunity for us to increase the voting population age for African-Americans in Georgia, but there's a danger that goes with this, too," he said. "Georgia also has one of the highest prison populations, so we have to educate people on the challenges of racial profiling."

"All the growth is in north Georgia," Anthony pointed out. "That will have a significant impact on the federal monies that are distributed. It's going to have a huge effect on reapportionment and the balance of power in the General Assembly."

Looking ahead

Just like no one could have predicted the changes that came with the new decade, officials cannot say what the next nine years will hold. Changing economic and political climates will affect population density and growth, and Census data in 2020 will no doubt reflect an increasingly diverse population.

Bartow County officials will continue to watch information as it is released and make adjustments to the growth management plan as needed.

"Once in a while you have to change [the growth management plan], or we knew we would have to when we did that," Brown said. "You have to be careful that you don't change too much.

"It's just a guide, you can't look into the future with it."

-- Information from staff writer Matt Shinall and The Associated Press was used in this article.