A Midlands population boom is underway, and Lexington County is ground zero.
The 758-square-mile county is expected to see an influx of at least 21,000 new residents by 2021, according to new projections.
While the downtown Columbia central business district experiences its own boom, Lexington County’s new growth should be considerably higher than any other portion of the six-county Columbia Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), according to Environmental Systems Research Institute (Esri), a global demographics and GIS software firm based in California.
Based on Esri’s projections, Lexington County alone will account for 35.5 percent of the total Columbia MSA population through 2021 and will account for nearly half of the entire MSA’s growth over the next five years.
“The population of the Columbia MSA is growing significantly,” confirmed Bryana Mistretta, S.C. research coordinator for the commercial real-estate firm Colliers International, which announced Esri’s findings.
The MSA consists of Richland, Lexington, Calhoun, Fairfield, Kershaw and Saluda counties.
In 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau reported the population of the MSA to be 767,600 people. The current population is now approximately 819,700 people, according to Esri.
By 2021, the MSA’s total population is projected to increase 5.6 percent to nearly 866,000 people, an increase of 46,300 new residents.
And that projected growth will be concentrated largely in Lexington County; the 2016 population of Lexington County is estimated now to be around 286,000 and projected to be 307,000 people by 2021 – a 7.4 percent increase.
Signs of growth are evident all over the county, which includes the bustling town of Lexington, as well as parts of Irmo and Columbia and the capitol city’s adjacent urban enclaves across the river in West Columbia and Cayce.
Numerous new, and large, housing and commercial developments are planned or already are underway in the county. The activity is especially evident in and around the town of Lexington and spreading out along the main corridors of Interstate 20 and U.S. Highways 1 and 378.
All those people will have significant impacts on everything from housing, to traffic, to schools, to infrastructure, to vital town- and county-level services such as police, fire, and EMS response, local officials have warned.
Lexington County officials, as well as municipal leaders, already are scrambling to keep service levels in step with growth, while attempting to minimize tax increases.
Another key consideration among the boom is the delivery of health care.
According to Esri’s projections, growth is occurring primarily in the 20-to-49 age group – but also among those older than 50.
People in the 50-plus age group account for 32.8 percent of Columbia MSA’s population, and by 2021 will account for 34.1 percent – an increase of 26,301 people.
“People in this age group are more likely to require more routine healthcare services,” Mistretta said.
And the growth also will expand the need for more healthcare workers, she added.
“To better serve the changing healthcare needs of the community, medical providers are focusing on two significant trends: statewide consolidation of patient medical records and enhancing the patient experience during healthcare visits” by upgrading facilities and adding amenities and services to provide a more relaxing or “at-home” feel, Mistretta said.
Health providers also are building to handle the growth. Nowhere is that more evident than at Lexington Medical Center, which recently began construction on a 545,000-square-foot expansion to its main West Columbia campus, expected to be complete in 2019.
The project will add 71 inpatient beds to the hospital’s existing 428 beds and add operating rooms, educational space, a dining area, the Lexington Medical Center Pharmacy, Labor & Delivery and Mother & Baby departments and a 950-space parking garage.
In addition, the hospital opened a new 10,000-square-foot rehabilitation center on the Lexington Medical Center Extended Care Campus in January 2016.
Columbia’s medical market will continue to evolve in the coming quarters, while medical office inventory will expand primarily at hospital-controlled facilities, according to Mistretta.
Further, additional construction of medical office space is expected to follow the Lexington Medical Center expansion, said Mistretta, as population growth increases the demand for medical services in Lexington and Richland counties.
Follow Hal Millard on Twitter @halmillard1.