With all of the growth in the Ga. 400 corridor, new neighborhoods popping up all over the city and county and traffic that often rivals its metropolitan neighbors, it’s easy to assume that Dawson County is in the middle of a population boom.
But that is not quite the case, according to a recent presentation by Dawson County Chamber of Commerce President Christie Moore.
Moore spoke to the Rotary Club of Dawson County earlier this month, debunking three myths about the county’s demographics and growth trajectory. The numbers may surprise you.
Myth: Dawson County’s population has exploded.
Truth: Dawson County’s population has grown by 2,291 people since 2010.
Dawson County’s current population is 24,521, Moore said, with a predicted population of 26,743 by 2023.
“We’re looking at a 1.67 percent annual growth rate, that is very sustainable,” Moore said. “That is not putting an extra burden on any of our systems.”
In the same period of time, from 2010 to the present, Forsyth County has grown by 52,356 people, more than two times the entire population of Dawson County.
“One of the myths that I hear a lot is ‘oh my gosh we’re going to be just like Forsyth County,’” Moore said. “I’m here to tell y’all, it is physically impossible for us to be just like Forsyth County. We cannot build homes fast enough; if today we tried, we will never catch up.”
Moore said that doesn’t mean Dawson County won’t grow, just that the growth will look different from other counties. And outside of Ga. 400 and the city, where most of the new homes are going up, Dawson County is still very rural.
“One great thing about our community is how many protected acres we have,” Moore said. “I’m going to guess that some of you live next to Dawson Forest, or some of you live on the lake. So between Dawson Forest, between the Chattahoochee National Forest, we’ve also got Corps property. The amazing thing about those pieces of property is they cannot be touched, they are protected.”
Myth: Dawson County’s population is not very diverse.
Truth: Dawson County’s population is very diverse socioeconomically.
“We are very diverse in terms of socioeconomics; we’re not always the most diverse in terms of race and ethnicity,” Moore said.
Statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau show Dawson County is 95.6 percent white.
And Dawson County is one of the wealthiest counties per capita in the state of Georgia, Moore said, at least on paper.
The median income per household is $57,891 in Dawson County. The state of Georgia’s median income sits around $56,000 while the nation’s is around $60,000.
But the average household income is higher, at around $80,000.
“That shows we have some extremes in Dawson County,” Moore said. “There is not as many people in the middle as there are on the high end and the low end.”
Another way the county is more diverse than expected is in age demographics.
The median age of people in Dawson County is 43, with 28.6 percent of people falling between the ages of 45 and 64.
“People often refer to us a retiree community,” Moore said. “We are not, we’re actually pretty balanced when it comes to age.”
Myth: Dawson County schools are at or over capacity.
Truth: Dawson County schools are at around 65 percent capacity.
The number of students in the Dawson County School system grew by 4.5 percent from 2017 to 2018, which concerned some residents about a potential for overcrowding at the schools.
But looking deeper at that number and taking into account the recent realignment that spread the student population out among the county’s schools, the school system is well equipped to handle population growth for several years.
There are around 3,600 students in the Dawson County school system, with current capacity for 5,500.
“When you hear an argument that we cannot handle any more growth because our school system is just going to be overrun with students, look at the numbers,” Moore said. “Our school system, our school board, really had a great vision for our community. Before the economy sunk, we were expected today to be at 50,000 population wise. So our school board was good because they went ahead and built out for a good amount and it is serving us very well right now.”
The school system is also currently building a College and Career Academy next to the high school to prepare Dawson County students for the future. The $8 million ESPLOST project will be a 35,000 square feet building opening in August 2019.
“Our school system is my favorite thing to talk about as the chamber president,” Moore said. “We knock it out of the park for being a small community.”