Macon shrinks as WR gains residents

U.S. census estimates released Wednesday indicate that Macon’s population slowly continues to shrink while Warner Robins’ pool of people grew slightly higher.

From July 2007 to July 2008, the number of Macon residents is estimated to have dropped from 93,191 to 92,775, a loss of less than half a percent. The last actual hard count of people living in Macon came in 2000, when the census reported a population of 97,255. Estimates suggest the number has steadily declined a little bit each year since then.

In Warner Robins, the population increased from 59,924 in 2007 to 61,336 in 2008, according to the estimates.

But the estimates are just projected data, and they aren’t always accurate. Between 1990 and 2000, for example, Census Bureau estimates showed Macon growing steadily each year. But when it came time to actually count people, it turned out the city had significantly fewer residents in 2000 than it did in 1990.

Physical counts occur every 10 years, and the next one starts in 2010.

Andrew Blascovich, Mayor Robert Reichert’s director of external affairs, said the administration has remained well aware of Macon’s population challenges since taking office at the end of 2007. It takes time, he said, to reverse trends that have led to the loss of residents.

There must be a focus on improving the quality of life in the city, which Blascovich said already has started to happen.

“You just got to show to people your community is some place they want to be,” said Blascovich, adding that Macon has much to offer. “We’re making that turn, and we think the 2010 census will show that.”

Warner Robins Mayor Donald Walker said growth has remained a part of his city during the past year even as the rest of the country began to experience the beginning stages of recession. He points to a new Kroger grocery store opening soon on Ga. 96, a new cancer treatment center opening off Houston Lake Road and development of the new regional headquarters for Little League baseball, which the mayor said is proceeding “full tilt.”

“All those things create growth for us — and jobs,” Walker said.

Meanwhile, surrounding cities in Middle Georgia have kept growing, according to estimates. Milledgeville moved from 20,355 to 20,703. Dublin’s size was boosted by more than 200 people, bringing its total from 17,298 to 17,509. Forsyth is up from 4,601 to 5,022. Even Gray added an estimated six people, rising from 2,215 to 2,221.

Elsewhere in Georgia, Atlanta was counted among the nation’s 25 large, fastest growing cities. Census estimates raised its population from 520,368 to 537,958.

Leading the list of fast-growing big cities was New Orleans, whose 8 percent population boost from 288,113 to 311,853 inched it closer to population levels prior to Hurricane Katrina.

To contact writer Matt Barnwell, call 744-4251.