BY YAEL T. ABOUHALKAH
Welcome to the fastest-growing county in the Kansas City area, where houses, schools and shops are being built to serve a flood of new residents.
Welcome to … Platte County.
Oh, you were thinking something else, maybe along the lines of perennial population magnet Johnson County?
According to just-released U.S. Census figures as of July 1, 2014, Platte County’s population was up 6.1 percent over the 2010 Census.
On the Kansas side of the state line, Johnson County had a healthy growth rate of 5.5 percent in the same four-year span.
Platte County’s population is one-sixth the size of Johnson County’s, so that helps explain a little bit of the surprise factor.
Yet here’s another fact that makes it clear the Missouri side of our region is having renewed success as a place where people want to buy houses, rent apartments and raise children: Add in the strong addition of residents in Clay County, and the combined population growth rate in the two Northland counties was 5.529 percent since 2010.
What was that Johnson County figure again? Carry out the decimal places, and it was 5.530 percent — essentially the same.
If you look at where people are choosing to live in the Kansas City area, the Northland these days is competing in many ways on equal footing with Johnson County.
The Northland generally has cheaper, new housing versus dwellings in the far-out reaches of Johnson County.
Much of the growing parts of the Northland are closer to downtown, which is still a large center of employment.
And the Northland features well-performing school districts — especially Park Hill, Liberty and Platte County R-III — along with the large North Kansas City District.
The biggest beneficiary of the Northland’s boom is the city of Kansas City.
Overall, it had gained just over 11,000 people since 2010, reaching a population of 470,800. It’s still by far the largest city in the area.
It’s true that a revived downtown is essential to Kansas City’s future. And city officials must try to bring economic development to the East Side. Yet while Kansas City south of the Missouri River continues to struggle to hold on to residents, the parts of the city in Clay and Platte counties don’t have that problem.
Indeed, one of the banes of Kansas City — its 320-square-mile size, which makes it difficult to provide adequate public services — is helping to lure new residents and taxpayers. (On the other side of Missouri, tiny and hemmed in St. Louis continued to shed population, down to 317,419 people.)
Kansas City’s good times are likely to continue, partly thanks to a large, new development area called Twin Creeks.
With some hyperbole, backers say it could attract an eye-popping 70,000 residents in the next 25 or so years. The 15,000-acre project is east of Kansas City International Airport. It roughly goes from Interstate 29 east to U.S. 169, and from Barry Road to the northern city limits.
The development is expected to explode in the coming years, now that some city assets such as public sewers are making it possible for construction to occur.
Roadblocks exist to such a huge endeavor, starting with the fact the city might have to spend several hundred million dollars on even more infrastructure, especially to upgrade the Northland’s road system.
City officials also have to continue improving public amenities such as trails, parks and libraries, all of which Johnson County has in abundance.
The success of the Northland in adding people also helps make it possible for Kansas City to expand its tax base while wooing companies that want to locate close to their workers.
Population growth north of the river remains a key asset in creating a more vibrant future for Kansas City.