Boone one of fastest growing small towns

Article by Anna Oakes from Watauga Democrat

Forbes ranked Boone at No. 4 in a Jan. 23 article featuring ?America's fastest growing small towns.?

Dan Meyer, president of the Boone Area Chamber of Commerce, said recognition from the influential business magazine could attract new businesses and developers to the area.

?What's good is that businesses who are looking to relocate will see that with a growing population, there are entrepreneurial opportunities in an area that's growing,? Meyer said.

The article, however, is a bit misleading. The photo slideshow that accompanies the piece states Boone had a population of 51,079 in 2010 and 44,451 in 2007, a growth rate of 14.7 percent. That would be the county population, not the Town of Boone.

The article states that it draws its numbers from U.S. Census data for every Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) with fewer than 100,000 people. In this case, the MSA and county are one and the same.

Boone proper, in fact, is growing at an even faster rate ? the U.S. Census Bureau reported Boone's 2010 population as 17,122. That's 24 percent growth since the 2007 estimate of 13,843 and 27 percent since 2000, when the Census Bureau counted 13,472 people in Boone.

The growth rate caught local leaders by surprise last spring, when 2010 Census numbers were reported. Prior population projections missed the mark.

In general, leaders attribute the growth to rising enrollment at Appalachian State University (ASU) along with associated increases in faculty and staff. According to ASU's Fact Book, total on-campus enrollment increased from 12,499 in fall 2000 to 15,674 in fall 2010 ? an addition of 3,175 students.

Meyer said the chamber reminds area businesses that every student is worth at least $20,000 to the local economy (roughly, that's the ASU budget divided by the number of students, Meyer explained).

The mention in Forbes follows up Boone's inclusion in an October 2011 U.S. News & World Report feature on ?The 10 best places to retire in 2012,? which described Boone as an ?affordable mountain town.?

?It is something that we should be very pleased with,? Meyer said. ?It shows the relative vibrance of our economy and of interest in the area.?

Of course, population growth also means increased strain on infrastructure and town services.

Bill Bailey, director of Boone's Planning & Inspections Department, said the growth means ?a lot more work for us and for the [town] council.? Bailey said the town must work with its own departments and with the county to direct growth. Last year, Planning & Inspections saw growth in commercial building permits and a slight bump in residential construction ? ?a sign the economy's turning around a little bit,? he said.

In 2009, the Boone Town Council adopted the Boone 2030 land use master plan, a guide for development and redevelopment in the town over the next 20 years.

Boone Public Works Director Blake Brown said the town's growth is visible in the use of its parks and trails and the need for pedestrian walkways such as sidewalks.

?At some point in time we're going to have to expand,? Brown said.

Despite a growing population, Boone has seen a decrease in water usage over the past few years. Boone Public Utilities Director Rick Miller chalks that up to the town's water conservation programs and to the economic downturn. Boone is still in the permitting process for a new raw water intake on the New River near Todd, which will draw up to 4 million gallons per day.

In response to a question about Boone's growth on Facebook, commenters stated that growth hasn't necessarily benefited those who have lived here a long time.

?It's a good thing as long as the growth stays controlled. When towns grow too fast they lose a lot of the personality that makes them,? said Scott James. Maxie Jones commented, ?Now land is so over-priced that people that live here can't afford it. It has really hurt the locals and the young trying to start out on their own. I miss the simpler days in Boone.?

Comment on this post!