It’s boom time for St. George. Not everyone is happy.
St. George was the fastest growing city in the country from July 2020 to July 2021.
St. George • Jeremy Spencer moved from Yuma, Ariz., to St. George to open a gym in part because of expected economic growth and changing demographics in the town of 95,000. The data trends, he says, point to a growing fitness market for Washington County that is getting younger and affluent.
Last week, the US Census Bureau reported that St. George had the highest percentage growth of any city in the nation between July 2020 and July 2021.. The city grew by 5.1%, or almost 9,302 inhabitants.
“A lot of that growth came from people moving into the county,” observed Mallory Bateman, director of demographic research and state data coordinator at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.
Bateman added that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is another factor as more people start buying homes while working remotely and outside of the typical office setting.
The housing market is growing and also becoming expensive. Average mortgages in Washington County averaged $559,000 in 2021, according to the Utah Association of Realtors, above Salt Lake County ($516,000) and Utah County ($519,455). $).
“St. George has several players in the housing market. It has its local growth, its full-time residents. It has secondary owners and then the tourism industry which is the Airbnb of the world,” added Dejan Eskic, senior fellow at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, who specializes in the housing market.
Locals like Martha Ham, a board member of the nonprofit Conserve Southwest Utah and landlord in Washington County, say there’s a shortage of affordable homes for sale and long-term rentals.
It’s just now affordability that worries Ham. As the region faces persistent drought, water will be crucial for the city’s growth, she said.
“The backdrop to all of this is that we’re living in a mega-drought brought on by climate change,” Ham said. “And we are in a crisis with regard to the water supply for new developments.”
Ham wants housing design to change to accommodate growth that promotes livability and sustainability.
His group also opposes the Lake Powell pipeline, which would move water from the Colorado River to communities like St. George. Many area politicians have said the pipeline is necessary for the area to continue to grow.
During her State of the City address in February, St. George Mayor Michele Randall said the city will double in size over the next forty years and that it must treat water as ” liquid gold”.
“With our significant growth comes excitement for new businesses, restaurants and broader economic development,” said David Cordero, Director of Communications and Marketing for the City of St. George. “It also creates challenges in terms of water, transport and infrastructure. As a city, we strive to meet these challenges head-on and manage growth in the best way possible. »
For Spencer, a gym owner with a doctorate in commerce, the change is an opportunity, exciting enough to make him quit his job at Northern Arizona University-Yuma.
“The demographics here in St. George fit the business model,” Spencer said. “I have the right age of families, the right age of income and the size of the market is right. The belief here in St. George, from my research, says people like exercise and a good place to come.
Spencer said the county’s public schools are considered excellent and have not closed during the ongoing pandemic as another factor in moving to southern Utah. Commercial buildings have sprung up in the area in just five months since he opened his business.
“It’s an area that’s going to expand for some time. It will be a hot spot for business and retirement,” Spencer added.
Not everyone sees growth as an opportunity. Adam Brooking, another St. George resident, said with housing prices being “insane”, he is unlikely to stay in the area much longer.
“I grew up here and saw the devastating growth firsthand,” Brooking said. “It makes me sad to think that I probably won’t be able to live here for very long.”