Henry County’s population will grow by 61 percent during the next 25 years to 352,000, according to the latest county population forecasts from the Atlanta Regional Commission.

Mike Alexander, director of the commission’s Center for Livable Communities, which uses the forecasts to create long-range investment plans, said the metro Atlanta region overall is attracting new residents due to its low cost of living and strong economy.

“We’ll see growth in existing suburban areas as well as the region’s core, as more people choose to live near jobs or transit,” he said in a statement.

He said the county’s Hispanic population will more than double to 33,000.

“The share of Henry’s population that is Hispanic will be 10 percent, well below the regional average of 24 percent,” Alexander said.

But Henry Council for Quality Growth’s executive director, Steve Cash, said the county’s diversity will keep step with the rest of the region.

“I am not sure I agree with their estimates,” he said.

Cash also said he saw figures indicating a higher head count over the next quarter-century – as many as 400,000 residents – but either result will test the county’s resources.

“We can meet this tremendous challenge either by planning for it by the utilization of smart growth principles – of which many are currently in place but ignored – not planning adequately, or taking the no-growth pathway, which many feel is the direction we are currently taking,” he said.

The council advocates smart growth, which, Cash said, accommodates new residents and businesses by building housing near jobs, shops and schools in the county’s urban, suburban and rural sectors

“This approach will support our economy while protecting our open land and environmental resources,” he said.

Cash said the county may fall victim to unorganized commercial expansion, more congested traffic and neighborhoods deteriorating through high percentages of rental properties.

“If we do not plan adequately, we will continue to see sprawl, transportation nightmares and the fairly new phenomenon, ‘rentalvisions,’” he said.

Alexander also pointed to a 46 percent job growth rate, which Cash said is not matched by new or expanding businesses.

“Currently Henry County’s job picture is mediocre at its best,” Cash said. “Through tracking the county’s commercial building permits monthly for years, you see no remarkable climb.”

However, an economic alliance called One Henry, announced in February, may help turn conditions around, he said.

“Much work is being done as we speak by local business leaders to offset our stagnant job growth,” Cash said.

Alexander said there will be job growth – nearly 32,000 new positions –  spearheaded by the education sector.

More students will require more teachers and more buildings, which school system officials said they have taken into account.

“The Henry County School System is well aware of the forecasted growth for the county and we are always looking to the future when it comes to expansion,” spokesman J.D. Hardin said.

He said strategic preparations include getting technology capabilities up to speed for the future demands on computer systems.

“We also have land across the county upon which we have not currently built a school but stand ready to host a school in the future,” Hardin said.

Education is going to go hand-in-hand with business, according to Henry County Development Authority Executive Director Charlie Moseley.

“The availability of a quality workforce is one of the top location factors for most companies, so they pay close attention to population trends,” he said. “Both new and existing companies want to make sure there is a pipeline in place for future employment growth.”

Quality is the keyword, Moseley said, pointing to workforce development measures like the Academy for Advanced Studies and Southern Crescent Technical College, which recently landed $16 million in state funds to expand its McDonough campus.

Other new construction helps when talking to businesses about the advantages of locating in Henry County, he said.

“The construction of the managed lanes along I-75 along with Henry County’s efforts related to [community improvement districts] and an additional interchange shows that we are making the necessary investments in our transportation infrastructure to serve the growing demand,” Moseley said. “When we frame the population growth through these lenses, it’s easy for companies to understand the potential for success in Henry County.”

Alexander also said the share of the county’s population who are 65 and over will nearly double, while the actual number will nearly triple.

He cited an increase from 11 percent of the current 219,000 residents to 20 percent of 352,000, or from 24,000 to 70,000 by 2040.

With a population that is not only growing but also graying, both pressure and opportunity present themselves to the medical profession.

“As the population in Henry County grows, so will the need for health care services. Piedmont Henry Hospital is prepared to meet these increasing needs of the community,” said its CEO, Charlie Scott.

The hospital is taking steps to meet the challenge, he said.

“We are in the process of developing a long-term facility master plan to respond to the anticipated growth in population by planning for expansion of hospital capacity,” Scott said.

In the short term, the hospital recently announced a $3 million renovation of its emergency room is at the halfway point.

Henry County government also is keeping an eye on the population counter, as it has a 20-year plan transportation plan dubbed Henry in Motion

The county collected public opinion for it through a website, an open house in March and Commissioner Bruce Holmes’s January town hall meeting.

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