Vehicles sit at the East University Drive/Opelika Road intersection. The Auburn-Opelika metro area grew by more than 20,000 people between 2010 and 2018, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. 

The Auburn-Opelika metro area grew by about 23,000 people between 2010 and 2018, according to the latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Area population increased from about 140,806 to 163,941 during that time frame.

The city of Auburn itself grew by more than 11,000 residents in that period, from an estimated 53,802 to an estimated 65,738, according to the data.

The numbers also estimate a population growth in Opelika from 26,469 to 30,555 – a difference of more than 4,000 new residents in the railroad town.

Why growth occurs

Auburn Mayor Ron Anders and Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller said they attribute growth in their respective cities to multiple factors, one of those being the job market and career opportunities available here.

“That’s really what sets Auburn apart from the Auburn that I grew up in, in the ‘70s and ‘80s,” Anders said.

“Now, young people who grow up in Auburn, young people who go to school at Auburn University, can stay in Auburn if they would like to, because of the types of industry, technology-based companies, the retail sector, the professional sector – all of those are areas of growth and real opportunity in our community.”

Fuller said he believes jobs that pay well, an emphasis he has had since becoming Opelika mayor more than 14 years ago, are the number one factor in Opelika’s growing population.

“Good-paying jobs create a lot of opportunities for residential development and for retail development,” he said. “Of course, people will move to a community for a good job. So that accounts for a lot of the growth.”

Both mayors also said the local school systems are a factor in people moving to the area, as well as public safety and other quality of life factors.

“…Like the SportsPlex, like the Grand National golf course, the availability of water with Lake Martin and Lake Harding, our proximity to Atlanta, the airport, and to Montgomery,” Fuller said.

Anders stressed the importance of the relationship the city of Auburn has with Auburn University.

“The research park and the Gogue Performing Arts Center are just two examples of ways that the university and the city are working together to provide great opportunity and a great quality of life for all the people who live here: students, university staff, citizens, children,” he said.

'Growing the right way'

As a city’s population grows, its government has to make certain adjustments and address growing pains to ensure the quality of life remains.

“We have to be mindful of that, because the worst thing we could do is allow our population to outpace our ability to serve that population,” Anders said.

“And then you just get frustration - traffic and lack of facilities, and crowded classrooms - and we don’t want to be there. So growing the right way, managing growth, will be the challenge to this council and to future councils, because we’re going to continue to do a good job of making Auburn a great place to live and a place that people want to come to.”

Fuller said as new subdivisions are built in Opelika, the city has to ensure wastewater treatment facilities and infrastructure are in place to handle the new residents.

“And then at some point, (superintendent) Dr. (Mark) Neighbors and the school board have to think about, where’s the next school going to be located? All of those are things that we talk about and we try to plan on,” said Fuller, adding that Opelika likely will build a fifth fire station to ensure coverage for growing areas of town.

'Kind and caring people'

Above all, the mayors emphasized that the citizens of their communities are the best part about them.

“I think the thing that makes the difference are the people who live here,” Fuller said. “We are a community of kind and caring people who are so supportive when disasters strike, like the tornadoes in Beauregard, like the outpouring of support for the (Auburn) police officer who was killed in the line of duty and those other officers who were wounded.

“People make the difference…the great people who live here, work, worship, play, and raise their families here.”

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