published Friday, May 23rd, 2014

Census: Texas has 3 of 5 fast-growing cities

Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders pose for photos with fans before a the ground breaking at the sight of the Dallas Cowboys new headquarters in Frisco, Texas. Three of the nation’s five fastest growing cities are located in the Lone Star State, according to new data from the Census Bureau. San Marcos, Frisco and Cedar Park, Texas were Nos. 1, 2 and 4 respectively in percentage population growth between 2012 and 2013, each growing by at least 5 percent in that time span.
Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders pose for photos with fans before a the ground breaking at the sight of the Dallas Cowboys new headquarters in Frisco, Texas. Three of the nation’s five fastest growing cities are located in the Lone Star State, according to new data from the Census Bureau. San Marcos, Frisco and Cedar Park, Texas were Nos. 1, 2 and 4 respectively in percentage population growth between 2012 and 2013, each growing by at least 5 percent in that time span.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

HOUSTON — Oil equals boom — especially in population right now. And Texas, in the midst of a significant energy rush, is seeing its towns and cities burst at the seams.

Three of the nation's five fastest-growing cities — and seven of the top 15 — are in the Lone Star State, 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.

Now these 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, Texas, 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 to 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."

San Marcos -- a city between Austin and San Antonio -- has 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 been enjoying 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.

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 has also 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."

Frisco, a suburb about 30 miles north of Dallas, has had growth "so long and sustained that we're used to it," said Mayor Maher Maso. 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 under 17 and about 10 percent are under 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.

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.

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