High quality of life, low crime rate, award-winning school system and lots of parks and greenways — no wonder people like to call Columbia County home.
“We focus on quality of life,” says Scott Johnson, the county manager. “Columbia County is a great secret, but it’s really no longer a secret.”
Clearly not, as people keep moving to the county year after year after year.
“Columbia County has had double digit census increases since 1950,” Johnson says.
According to the most recent U.S. Census data and worldpopulationreview.com, Columbia County’s estimated population in 2022 is 164,625 with a growth rate of 1.63% in the past year. Columbia County’s estimated population in 2021 was 161,988.
The estimated population of Grovetown is 16,734 in 2022, according to the city website, with a growth rate of 2.72%, and 16,566 in 2021. Harlem’s estimated population in 2022 is 3,751, with a growth rate of 2.46%, and 3,591 in 2021.
According to stacker.com, Columbia County is the ninth fastest-growing county in the state (the top eight counties are in the metro Atlanta area) and number 196 among all counties nationwide.
Good government also attracts people to the area. “Columbia County just lowered its millage rate to the lowest rate it’s had since 1989,” Johnson says.
In August, the Board of Commissioners approved an overall 2022 millage rate of 8.618. The millage is the rate per $1,000 of property value.
To keep pace with the population increase, more homes and businesses are sprouting up in the county as well.
“By all accounts, the economy in Columbia County is thriving,” says Robbie Bennett, executive director of the Development Authority of Columbia County. “Our biggest challenge is the availability of housing to bring people into the community.”
From August 1, 2021 through August 15, 2022, Columbia County issued 1,039 residential building permits and 72 commercial building permits for new construction. From August 1, 2020 through August 15, 2021, the county issued 997 residential building permits and 82 commercial building permits.
From August 1, 2021 through August 15, 2022, Harlem issued 21 residential building permits but no commercial building permits. Harlem issued 64 residential building permits, but no commercial building permits, from August 1, 2020 through August 15, 2021.
“Permit issuance was down due to the availability of buildable lots,” says Debra Moore, the Harlem city manager. “We should see an increase in the residential permits with Hickory Woods coming online in (September) and Heritage Ridge in the coming year.”
Grovetown issued 313 residential building permits and four commercial building permits from August 1, 2021 through August 15, 2022. The city issued 260 residential building permits and seven commercial building permits from August 1, 2020 through August 15, 2021.
“We are our own city, and being a member of the Grovetown community means something,” says Ronald Kurtz, the city’s director of Planning and Community Development. “It has a strategic location between Augusta and the rest of Columbia County. Frequently, professionals have ties to both of these communities.”
In addition, Kurtz says, “We are proactive in developing the type of growth we want to see.”
Johnson believes that newcomers have the same expectations for amenities in Columbia County that they had in their previous homes.
“The key is to stay true to your roots and to your plan,” he says. “We welcome new ideas, but not change just for the sake of change.”
By Leigh Howard