The latest census estimate numbers (July 1, 2017 to July 1, 2018) show the City of Fountain Inn’s population grew at a rate of 15.77% or by 1,365 residents, in one year. In South Carolina, this one-year growth rate was surpassed only by the Town of Trenton, which grew by 17.76%, or 38 residents. In terms of total new residents, the City of Fountain Inn was surpassed only by Mount Pleasant (2,591), Fort Hill (2,314), North Charleston (2,305), and Bluffton (2,301). Fountain had more residents move into its corporate limits than Rock Hill, Hanahan, Conway, Myrtle Beach, Greer, and Goose Creek!
The most recent census estimates show us at 10,019 people. However, there have been a great deal of new homes built and families who have moved here since July 1, 2018 to present. Many new subdivisions/homes, already given Planning Commission and City Council approval, haven’t even been built yet. In Fountain Inn’s Master Plan, adopted in 2017, the conservative population forecast for 2020 was 8,658 residents. The aggressive 2020 forecast was 10,600. Clearly, the City of Fountain Inn’s population has and will increase beyond what anyone even imagined just a few years ago.
So, what’s the reason for all this growth? Well, there are several culprits. The nation, state, and region’s unemployment numbers are at historic lows and yet the Upstate region continues to attract more industry and expansions. More jobs will always equate to a higher demand for housing. The “hub” of the Upstate is Greenville County, of which the majority of Fountain Inn is located. Fountain Inn is positioned right off I-385 and just minutes from I-85, downtown Greenville, I-26, GSP airport, and the Inland Port. This makes our area very desirable for businesses and industry. When you throw in other factors such as our great schools, our small-town feel, our quaint downtown, attainable housing costs, developable land, and our year-round special events, it makes sense why suddenly Fountain Inn has become an attractive place for families, young professionals, and retirees.
There are plenty of new residents who like the positives of growth such as increased amenities and new stores/restaurants. However, almost all residents dislike the negatives of growth such as increased traffic and the strain on first responders. So, what can the municipal government do to balance the positives and negatives of growth? First, we have just hired our very first full-time City Planner. Planning and zoning are the two most valuable tools in determining how a community should look, so it makes sense to have an expert on staff to guide and prioritize the City’s vision. Downtown Fountain Inn is the lifeblood of this community and we must make every effort to ensure it keeps its small town/quaint character. I believe we should focus more on infill development and increasing density where infrastructure is already located, rather than seeking shoe-string annexations that do nothing but encourage sprawl and stretch the City’s resources.
Second, the City will continue to have to invest in personnel, equipment, and facilities to keep up with service demands. Every year, we need to be hiring additional police officers, firefighters, public works employees, etc. The renovation of Woodside Park and the addition of the downtown splash pad is great, but we still need more gym space, more playgrounds, and more downtown parking. City Hall, the Police Department, and the Fire Department Headquarters are just about maxed out. We are already looking at the possibility of building a Fire Station #3, as well as, a new Natural Gas/Public Works facility/yard.
Lastly, we need to develop a comprehensive plan which addresses repaving roads, increases multi-use trails, and encourages public transit. We are going to have to start budgeting more and more money every year for the purpose of repaving roads, but we must continue to press SCDOT and the County Transportation Committees to get our fair share. Getting vehicles off our roads is also paramount. If we can get more people walking/riding their bike to work or school and more folks using public transportation such as Greenlink, our roads will be safer and won’t be as expensive to maintain.
Fountain Inn is in a part of the state with a great economy and where people want to live. Unless the economy takes a huge nose-dive, the demand for living in Fountain Inn won’t be going away any time soon. With a planning/zoning expert on staff, vowing to keep downtown quaint, investing in personnel, equipment, and facilities, and addressing roads and trails, I believe Fountain Inn can maintain its community feeling while handling the influx of newcomers.
Shawn Bell is the City Administrator of Fountain Inn. For more information, go to www.fountaininn.org, call 864-862-4421, or email firstname.lastname@example.org♦.