By William C. Wadsack
While the major cities in Grayson County have been preparing for growth for a while, the U.S. Census Bureau recently released data that shows local growth is accelerating.
Annual estimates of resident population for the Sherman-Denison Metropolitan Statistical Area show the region grew 2.1 percent from 2015 to 2016. That's the largest estimated year-to-year growth the area has seen this decade and places the region as the 27th highest percent growth in the country.
"That's a tremendous growth rate for this area," Grayson County Judge Bill Magers said. "That blows any numbers from recent years away."
A metropolitan statistical area is a geographical region that has a relatively high population density at its core and close economic ties throughout that region. The Sherman-Denison MSA consists of Grayson County as a whole and had a population of 120,877 during the 2010 census. The population estimate for 2016 for the region was 128,235, a 2,698-person increase from the 2015 estimate of 125,537.
Denison City Manager Jud Rex and Sherman City Manager Robby Hefton said they've seen the acceleration in growth over the last couple of years.
"We've seen that in things like a noticeable uptick in our building permits, noticeable uptick in our water connections that we track on a monthly basis," Hefton said. "We've seen indicators of that on a micro level, and I guess a macro level too."
Rex pointed to a city record Denison set last year by issuing 115 single-family building permits, as well as increased business and economic development activity as examples of the accelerated growth in his city.
For the first few years after the last census in 2010, the Sherman-Denison MSA saw slow estimated growth — 0.19 percent in 2011, 0.29 percent in 2012, 0.5 percent in 2013 — but estimates have stepped up over the last few years — 1 percent in 2014, 1.6 percent in 2015, 2.1 percent in 2016. Hefton said Sherman estimated its growth from 2015 to 2016 in the 2.5 percent range; Rex said Denison didn't have an estimate for that time period.
"We're in the process now of updating our comprehensive plan and part of that analysis is going to be looking at past population growth and projecting future growth as well," Rex said. "I think it ends a long period of population-growth stagnation for Denison. We've pretty much not seen an uptick in population for several decades — since the Katy Railroad left and Perrin Air Force Base (closed). So it's a welcome sight for Denison.
Both city managers said they feel the area's growth has been a good thing for their city.
"It is definitely a benefit, in terms of our ability to continue providing the services we provide because it broadens our property tax base, it broadens our sales tax base, it also broadens revenue that comes from franchise taxes," Hefton said. "It's a benefit — No. 1 — in that it provides a broader tax base for us, but — No. 2 — what it also requires us to do is to stay out ahead of the growth."
Denison Mayor Jared Johnson said he believes Denison and the entire region is staying ahead of that growth.
"You can tell as the city of Denison, the city of Sherman and the county have made recent investments in infrastructure, that is a sign that we are looking toward the future," Johnson said. "We see it coming, so from Denison's perspective, we're not only bringing our infrastructure up to par for current residents, but we're thinking about future growth when we make those investments."
Sherman Mayor David Plyler said there are several reasons for this growth, some of local doing and some because it's a "Golden Age" in North Texas.
"We have seen incredible growth in Sherman and the surrounding area over the past few years, with people moving to our city at a rate we haven't seen in decades," Plyler said via email. "Certainly, good jobs, great amenities and unique shopping all play a role. But also, more and more people are realizing Sherman sits in a sweet spot, literally. It's hard to find affordable housing and abundant recreation just an hour from downtown Dallas, and yet that's precisely what we have here."
The Sherman-Denison MSA's 2.1 percent estimated growth, beat out the percentage growth of the MSAs for Dallas, Houston and Oklahoma City. While Dallas' estimated growth of 143,435 was the most additional people any MSA saw from 2015 to 2016, it was only 2 percent growth, which earned it a percent growth rank of 35th. The Houston MSA saw a 1.9 percent estimated growth for 48th place and the Oklahoma City MSA saw a 1.2 percent growth for a 99th ranking.
Magers said that growth means the region as a whole needs to be investing in roads and infrastructure. Hefton said he feels Sherman is "appropriately ahead" of the growth that is coming to the area.
"What we're trying to do is stay just the right amount ahead of the growth that we're seeing," Hefton said. "We'll go ahead and plan out and identify the things we need to do, like taking Lamberth Road out all the way to (Highway) 289, but we're only going to do the actual construction of the roads as development is kind of on our doorsteps."
Rex called the region's 2.1 percent estimated growth a "healthy growth" and said it hasn't been enough to significantly impact Denison's ability to serve its residents.
"When you get up around 5 or 10 percent, that can really challenge your infrastructure and you finances and your ability to pay for that growth," Rex said, adding he feels the region could stand to see more commercial development. "I think where the MSA lags a little bit is — it's kind of the chicken and egg — where you get more rooftops and more residents, but sometimes the commercial and retail growth that comes from that lags behind. So I think we're in that period where the population's grown but the commercial businesses and especially retail and restaurants haven't caught up yet."
Hefton said it's important to remember there's more to managing growth than just adding roads, water and sewer pipelines and renovating existing service centers, like the city's planned work on the Sherman Public Library.
"It is notable that the school district is really trying to deal with the same issues," Hefton said of the Sherman Independent School District. "In large part, the growth that we see is affecting the school district as well."
Magers agreed that Sherman ISD's upcoming bond election for new facilities was further evidence of the area's growth.
"They have to have new facilities and those sorts of things," Magers said. "You see that growth in infrastructure and services, particularly for schools and I think we're doing a good job. We know this is happening, obviously this is the beginning of a trend. It's really a pretty simple situation. You've got people moving in, you have to build schools and you have to build roads."