HOUSTON -- They grow everything bigger in Texas, even the cities.
Three of the nation’s five fastest-growing cities -- and seven of the top 15 -- are located in the Lone Star State, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau. This includes San Marcos -- a city located between Austin and San Antonio -- that has topped the list of cities with more than 50,000 people for the second year in a row with growth of 8 percent between July 2012 and 2013 to 54,076 people.
But with that growth comes a few bumps.
Mayor Daniel Guerrero noted that while the city has been enjoying steady growth for years, and has set aside money to keep up with road and other infrastructure improvements, not everything has gone as planned.
The Great Recession and a sudden rise in fuel costs forced San Marcos to delay major construction. Now, the city 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 with an enviable location between Austin and San Antonio, one of the nation’s largest outlet malls and a constantly expanding 35,000-student Texas State University, Guerrero anticipates the trend will continue.
"We have an immaculate natural beauty to our community, certainly the spring-fed river ... San Marcos River ... historic neighborhoods, a growing and beautified downtown that we’ve been investing in heavily over the last few years," he said.
The West in general is in the midst of a population boom, largely fueled by a boom in the oil-and gas-rich fields of the Great Plains and Mountain West. Most of the fastest-growing cities are west of the Mississippi River.
Odessa, Texas, a city smack-dab in the middle of the oil-rich Permian basin, is among them. People are flooding to work in the oil fields that are booming thanks to new hydraulic fracturing technologies that allow drillers to reach once out-of-reach resources. Here they are promised higher-than-average salaries in the West Texas desert.
Meanwhile, Robert Morton, Odessa’s city manager, is rushing to keep up. Developers can’t build homes quickly enough, the schools are rapidly filling and an overburdened water supply, made worse by a years-long drought, is stret-
"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," Morton said, noting he struggles to fill staff vacancies.
"We’re growing, but we’re not growing fast enough and that’s circular because we can’t grow any faster because the developers ... they’re working, they’re investing their private capital ... but they can’t do it fast enough," Morton said.
Still, he views this as an opportunity for the city, and believes it can and will keep up with the rapid pace of growth.
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 also grew rapidly.
Houston’s surge of 35,202 people to 2.2 million in 2013 has also been fueled by the oil boom, even though there is no drilling in the region, said Andy Icken, the city’s chief development officer. The refineries, the port, the technology centers and many of the oil companies’ headquarters are in the city and its surroundings, and workforces are being moved to the area.
That pace, he said, will not let up, and so Houston is working with state agencies to decide how to improve and expand a massive, circular and crucial network of freeways that connects the vast, sprawling city.
"The industries are all doing well," Icken added, noting rapid growth in Houston’s medical center is also attracting residents. "That has consequences to the city of Houston."