New report shows significant growth expected for Guadalupe County as Austin-San Antonio ‘mega region’ expands

Jeff Barton, the project manager who is heading Guadalupe County's first strategic plan, speaks to residents at the first of two town hall meetings June 20.

Jeff Barton, the project manager who is heading Guadalupe County's first strategic plan, speaks to residents at the first of two town hall meetings June 20.

According to draft results of a new study released Wednesday night, rapid growth will continue in Guadalupe County during the next two decades, reaching a projected population of more than 284,000 by 2040.

The county’s predicted growth is in people and jobs, with 30,000 additional positions and more than double the amount of retail sales expected by 2040. The future population could also be wealthier, with personal incomes forecasted to triple.

The findings are according to a preliminary analysis prepared for the Guadalupe County Commissioners Court by economists at Texas Perspectives, part of a team led by Gap Strategies —the comprehensive planning firm that is helping Guadalupe County create its first strategic plan.

Gap Strategies’ Jeff Barton, who is serving as project manager for the plan, said growth in Guadalupe County is driven by a strong economy in what he said is becoming known as “the new mega region” of the greater Austin-San Antonio area.

Planning ahead

At the first of two town hall meetings Wednesday night, Barton said Guadalupe County is one of very few counties across the state that is mapping out its future through a strategic plan.

“Unfortunately, too few counties get involved in this long-term concept of strategic planning,” he said.

But Guadalupe County Judge Kyle Kutscher said preparing for future growth is a top priority as a dozen new residents move into the county each day. He noted that the county’s growth presents many positive aspects as well as challenges.

“We’ve seen our county grow from an 80,000-90,000 population to 160,000 in less than 20 years,” Kutscher said. “With all the projections of us doubling in size over the next 20 years, we wanted to really kind of try to refine the process and plan in a better way knowing that so many changes are going to come forth.”

While counties typically don’t participate in these kinds of planning efforts, incorporating citizen input in such a meaningful way is even less common, Barton said.

“We want to find out from the public (if the commissioners court has) the same thought process and vision for the county that our residents do,” Kutscher said.

An issue discussed at Wednesday’s town hall meeting was the limited power of county governments in Texas, where cities have more regulatory authority.

“We want to take those differences between cities and school districts and the county and see how those plans overlap and can connect, and then just manage expectations in other areas to explain and inform the public where our authority as a county is shut off and who should be responsible for some of those things. And even if we can’t change those specific things ourselves as a county, we can still maybe help facilitate some of those conversations and planning efforts.”

Such limitations in authority make it imperative for local governments to work together, Kutscher said.

“How the cities change and annex and develop definitely affects the county and vice versa, so if we’re not working together long-term it would be a negative for all of us.”

Citizen input

Prior to Wednesday’s town hall meeting, around 275 people had taken an online survey asking questions about transportation and other key elements that will be affected by the expected population influx.

At the meeting, which took place at the Seguin Coliseum Event Center, guests were able to vote on more specific priorities during a focus exercise where stickers were placed on various boards.

Four red stickers were given to each guest and used to vote for topics where they would like to see the county focus its efforts. Eight green stickers were used to identify which areas they felt money should be spent, with one of the options being to keep the money in the bank.

Life-long Guadalupe County resident Ken Kiel was among residents who attended the town hall meeting, and he said transportation, economic development and the water supply are some of his top concerns as the region expands. He said he is pleased to see the county take the initiative to develop a strategic plan.

“If there’s not long-term planning, we’re going to be fixing problems that we didn’t think about all along, so it’s better to be prepared on the front end of it,” Kiel said.

Guests were also given the opportunity to provide additional feedback on sticky notes. Some of the comments read as follows:

More emphasis should be placed on recruiting companies that pay a “living wage” for economic development.

• Require new road projects to be able to accommodate or built to 10+ year use levels now so you avoid future construction delays.

• Appreciate the low taxes but willing to spend a little more to maintain quality of life.

• Improve EMS and fire response.

• Lobby legislators for county home rule.

Don’t want to see new rural subdivisions with such small lots that neighbors can shake hands out their windows. Should be able to see the sky out your windows, not your neighbors siding. Half-acre minimum lot size.

More from the report

In a statement, Gap Strategies said its economic assessment and forecast for Guadalupe County quantifies what many residents already suspect regarding economic differences in the eastern and western portions of the county.

While western Guadalupe County along I-35 generally shows higher median home values, higher incomes and lower poverty rates than, for instance, the county seat of Seguin, the study also indicates several strengths for Seguin—such as strong transportation infrastructure, strong fundamentals for manufacturing and a “more self-contained” economy.

The report also shows employment in Guadalupe County is up 24 percent since 2010 based on data from 2017. Job growth is expected to continue, with Guadalupe County adding almost 9,000 jobs since 2014.

The county's leading employment sectors are: trade, transport and utilities; education and health services; manufacturing; and leisure and hospitality. If current trends continue, the study shows the same top four industry sectors will remain in the same order, “but with all experiencing significant growth.”

Housing costs in the county fall about mid-range in the region, according to the report, with a median home value of $169,200—greater than Atascosa, Bandera, Medina, Wilson and Bastrop and Caldwell Counties but lower than Comal, Kendall Hays and Williamson counties.

Among city residents, per capita incomes are also higher than the county average in New Berlin, Schertz, Cibolo and Santa Clara. Marion has the lowest per capita income among cities, and Seguin, Staples, and New Braunfels are also lower than the county average.

As for how gradual the projected population increase will be, the report approximates a jump from 160,000 residents in 2017 to about 198,000 in 2025 before exceeding 284,000 in 2040. The data will be checked against growth estimates from cities and school districts during the next few weeks before it is officially presented to the Guadalupe County Commissioners Court. If adopted, the data will become the official planning numbers used by the County for preparing budgets and services.

What happens next

A second and final town hall meeting will take place June 27 at the city of Schertz Civic Center, 1400 Schertz Parkway, Schertz, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Information will also continue to be collected in the online survey. Once all data is gathered and analyzed, Gap Strategies will present its recommendations to the Commissioners Court later this summer.
By Rachel Nelson
Rachel Nelson is editor of the New Braunfels edition of Community Impact Newspaper. She covers local business, new development, city and county government, health care, education and transportation. Rachel relocated to Central Texas from Amarillo in 2009 and is a graduate of Texas State University's School of Journalism and Mass Communication.