From 2010 to 2018, two Saratoga County towns were the fastest-growing in the state based on percentage of growth, according to new estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The Route 50 corridor town of Ballston is estimated to have seen 15.2 percent growth in that time, with the official 2010 census estimate of 9,776 having grown to 11,258 people, by the best estimate of the Census Bureau.
Less than 10 miles away, second place went to Halfmoon, which has had pro-growth policies in place for a half-century, as well as easy access to the Northway. Its population grew an estimated 14.2 percent, from 21,535 to an estimated 24,584.
Sixth place on the statewide percentage-growth list, meanwhile, went to the town of Malta, which is estimated to have grown 9.6 percent, from 14,765 to 16,179.
Nearby Stillwater was ranked 11th, having grown 7.8 percent. Its population is now estimated at 8,932, according to the Census Bureau.
Those towns all lie in Saratoga County, which, ever since the evolution of suburban development after World War II, has been among the fastest-growing counties in New York state. The arrival of the Northway in the 1960s further fueled that growth.
Today, all those fast-growing towns are also seeing an impact from the arrival of the $12 billion GlobalFoundries computer chip plant in Malta, which opened in 2011 and today employs about 3,000 people. There are also hundreds of other jobs at companies that service and supply the semiconductor plant, and those people are also renting and buying in the county.
Malta Town Supervisor Darren O’Connor acknowledged the chip plant’s role. “Since 2010, GlobalFoundries came in, so it’s a product of that, certainly, but we have a great quality of life in Malta,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor said the town’s approach at this point is to try to have controlled growth, so the character of the town doesn’t change too much. “We’re trying to make sure we don’t lose the character of the town while at the same time allowing for economic development,” he said.
The Census Bureau said that Saratoga County’s population is now estimated at 230,163, up from 219,593 in 2010. Most communities in the county showed at least some growth in the last eight years.
However, these new census figures also make clear that Saratoga County towns are outliers in upstate, where cities like Amsterdam, Gloversville and Johnstown — aging in housing stock, infrastructure and population — have continued to see their populations fall.
“The Capital District has some of the more extreme (population changes) in the state,” said E.J. McMahon, research director at the Empire Center for Public Policy, who has analyzed the figures. “Saratoga County is one of just two counties in upstate that is growing from in-migration of people.”
New York state as a whole has seen its population increase from 19,378,124 in 2010 to an estimated 19,542,209 as of July 1, 2018, according to the Census Bureau. That’s far less growth than most states, though, and most of the growth has been in the New York City metropolitan region.
Looking across the state at towns, about five times as many saw losses as saw gains. Cities and villages are in similar straits, with about two losers for any gainer. While cities get more attention, rural areas are among the biggest population losers.
McMahon said that problem shows up in Schoharie County, where the village of Schoharie has lost more than 10 percent of its population since Tropical Storm Irene flooded the entire Schoharie Valley in 2011, leaving the village in need of rebuilding.
Schoharie County saw its overall population decline from 32,729 in 2010 to an estimated 31,097. Every town and village in the county lost population except for Broome and Jefferson, towns of fewer than 1,500 which gained less than 20 people each. The population of the village of Schoharie — the flood-ravaged county seat — dropped from 922 to 828.
“You have storm-ravaged Schoharie, which is among the fastest-losing population in the entire state,” McMahon said. “The interesting thing is, it’s not just the storm, but parts of Schoharie that were less ravaged by the storm that have lost population, and that reflects what has been happening across rural upstate and really across rural agricultural America. Rural areas are just in a slow and steady almost continuous decline.”
McMahon cast doubt on whether jobs and people will ever come back in significant numbers to small cities and rural areas, saying the state and local regulatory environments upstate discourage business, and communities with high numbers of retirees and other people who don’t rely on job income are more likely to have residents turn out to oppose development proposals.
“Places that are shrinking and should be desperate for growth are not necessarily making the process any easier,” he said.
Small cities like Amsterdam, meanwhile, suffer in unique ways because of 1960s urban renewal efforts gone wrong, and very little development happens in them without some form of government subsidy or support.
Just west of the Capital Region, Utica has been hemorrhaging population. In the last decade, it has offered support services to attract immigrants and international refugees — it now has significant populations from Bosnia, Vietnam and northeast Africa — but it nevertheless saw its population drop, from about 62,000 to about 60,000. Some of those immigrants commute as far as western Montgomery County to work.
McMahon said he didn’t want to paint the picture for most of upstate as too dire, though.
“I think as an upstate New Yorker for 40-odd years I think there’s a great deal of potential in upstate New York. There’s no single panacea, but I think there’s a great deal of potential in upstate New York.”
While cities, towns and villages that are losing people are often hoping to get them back, having a growing town is no guarantee of political peace.
In Ballston, new apartment complexes have arisen along Route 50, and single-family homes have extended into the eastern side of town, off East Line and Round Lake roads, stirring opposition from more-established residents. Last year, residents in and around Burnt Hills voted down a controversial $15.8 million plan to bring sewers to the growing hamlet.
The extent to which growth has been encouraged or accommodated is a central issue in a Republican primary for offices including town supervisor on June 25. Incumbent Supervisor Tim Szczepaniak, whom critics say has been too pro-growth, is being challenged by Eric Connolly, a high school teacher with concerns about growth. (Connolly also has the Democratic nomination to run in the fall.)