WARNER ROBINS -- Census data released Thursday showed the Warner Robins metro area was one of the fastest growing parts in the country between 2010 and 2011.
Metro Macon, meanwhile, showed only slight growth while some Middle Georgia areas lost population.
The figures, based on the metropolitan statistical area including all of Houston County, show the Warner Robins area grew by 2.9 percent to 143,925 between April 1, 2010, and July 1, 2011. That makes it the sixth fastest-growing metro area in the nation, according to the Census Bureau.
The fastest growing metro area was the Kennewick-Pasco-Richland, Wash., area, population 264,133, with 4.3 percent growth.
Metro Macon, which includes Bibb, Crawford, Jones, Monroe and Twiggs counties, grew by .03 percent to 232,920. The Dublin and Milledgeville areas, termed micropolitan areas by the Census Bureau, lost population, and the Fort Valley area saw marginal gains.
The 2010 figures are based on the census, while the 2011 figures are estimates. For the estimates, the Census Bureau looks at births, deaths, administrative records and survey data.
The estimates reflect changing growth patterns nationwide, according to a Census Bureau release. Of the 50 fastest growing areas in the last decade, only 24 were on the fastest growing list since the 2010 census.
Houston County Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker attributed metro Warner Robins’ growth to a variety of factors, including a low crime rate, good school system, low cost of living and the overall quality of life in the community. Many people move here to work at Robins Air Force Base, then stay here when they retire, contributing to a continuous source of growth, he said.
“People are moving here obviously because Warner Robins and Houston County have gotten a lot of good publicity as a great place to raise a child, and once they do that they end up staying here,” Stalnaker said.
He said he believes the 2.9-percent growth estimate is probably a good one, and if anything it may be on the low side. As evidence of that, he cited growth in sales tax revenues during a time when revenues have dropped in other areas and more people are pinching pennies. Houston County has generally been isolated from the economic woes that have impacted the country, he said.
“I remind people not to be too down in the dumps because we are a lot better off than they think we are,” he said.
Warner Robins Mayor Chuck Shaheen said he was not surprised the Warner Robins area was identified as a fast growing one.
“We are the greatest city in the country,” he said. “We are a military town, a faith-based town and we are a giving town. The future is going to continue to be bright.”
He said the construction of the new law enforcement center near Robins Air Force Base and $2.5 million in sales tax funds to spur economic development in that area will help spur growth in a part of the town that has struggled.
Perry Mayor Jimmy Faircloth said he has seen the signs of growth in his city. One indicator is commercial and residential building permits, which were stagnant a couple of years ago but have been growing steadily since then. He attributed the growth to Robins and people coming to area to retire, among other factors.
“We’ve had a slow but steady growth rate, and that to me is the best kind to have because you don’t have those wild swings that cause problems,” he said.
Among those retiring in the Warner Robins area are Tim and Gina Parish, who are looking to return to the city this year after a six-year absence. The couple lived in Warner Robins for 18 years before Tim Parish’s job as a air-traffic controller took them and their two children to Prattville, Ala., in 2006.
But Warner Robins always felt like home, Gina Parish said Thursday.
So when Tim Parish retired this year, they looked to move back to Warner Robins. Good schools along with continued growth influenced the Parishes’ decision. Their daughter, a rising 10th-grader, will attend a Houston County school. Their son is a student at Auburn University.
“The schools are a big part of it because you have excellent schools there,” Gina Parish said. And while other cities struggle in a tough economy, Warner Robins “is just wonderful because it’s growing.”
“You see new stores and restaurants opening up,” she said.
The Parishes are in the process of purchasing a home and hope to move to Warner Robins after school is out in late May.
Meanwhile, Macon Mayor Robert Reichert said the growth in Houston County is good news for the entire region.
“I’m one of those who thinks regionally and that we are joined at the hip,” he said. “What’s good for Warner Robins is good for Macon, and what’s good for Macon is good for Warner Robins.”
He also pointed out that the census figures look at where people are at night. During the day, he said, Macon’s population swells as people drive in from surrounding counties to work.
“We continue to be a prospering and dynamic economic center,” he said.
Staff writer Caryn Grant and Houston office editor Jennifer Burk contributed to this story. To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.