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Posted: March 21, 2011 5:47 a.m.

Diversity drives Newton’s growth

The 2010 Census results were unsurprising for Newton County and the rest of the region east of Atlanta, with four major trends:

- High population growth in most counties.

- Large growth in the black population.

- Growth in Asian and Hispanic populations.

- Low growth in the white population, and a decline in the white population in DeKalb and Rockdale countties.

Newton County grew by 61 percent, to 99,958, and was second only to Henry County in the area in growth. Henry County's population increased by 70.7 percent to 203,922.

Newton gained 26,681  black residents in the decade, which accounted for 70 percent of the county's growth. The Asian population doubled, to 881, and the Hispanic population quadrupuled, to 4,635. Newton County added 5,974 white residents.

Residents from Northern states were enticed to the area in the decade by the housing boom, subprime mortgage market and the popularity of Atlanta, according to real estate agent Le Anne Long.

Long noted that those who left Rockdale and DeKalb counties moved east, to Walton and Oconee counties.

New trends are emerging. Now that housing prices have declined, Long said, she's seeing more Hispanic homebuyers.

Northerners are no longer as prevalent, and she’s seeing more Asian and white homebuyers. In addition, some residents who moved to Greene and Oconee counties are coming back because those counties are too far from Atlanta.

"I think this East Atlanta area will always be a great place to raise a family and a great place to live. People will always want to have this bedroom community to commute to Atlanta," she said.

 Effects of lower-than-expected Census numbers

While the demographic shifts weren’t unexpected based on previous Census estimates, the final 2010 population count was lower than expected.

Chairman Kathy Morgan said that local and regional estimates predicted Newton County would have a 2010 population of around 105,000. Those models took into account vacancies, so despite Newton’s 10.3 percent vacancy rate, officials still expected the county to easily break 100,000.

The final count could have benefits and drawbacks. Morgan said that when a county breaks the 100,000 barrier, certain county departments have to meet extra reporting requirements and certain positions get automatic pay raises. Falling below 100,000 could allow the county to avoid these extra expenses for another year.

However, a lower population will also give Newton less power in the redistricting process. Morgan said she would love for Newton to have its own state representative and its own state senator, because then those officials aren’t split between multiple interests.

Morgan noted that Newton County still grew from 2009, and it’s expected to keep outpacing regional growth because it has so many available housing units.

According to the Atlanta Regional Commission, Newton County has 38,342 housing units. About 4,000 are vacant, based on a 10.3 percent vacancy rate. Morgan said local estimates had the number of vacant unites closer to 3,000, but in either case growth will come.

One factor that may prevent  a surge in growth in the next few years is rising transportation costs. Newton County has no public transit system, making a driving commute to Atlanta the only choice. Covington is exploring bringing Georgia Regional Transportation Authority bus service further east, but Morgan said she didn’t know how that would play out.

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