The 2020 census and this year's redistricting based on that data could have a profound impact here in Northeast Georgia.

In Banks County, the 2020 census showed a small decline in population, something that's difficult to fathom. The 2019 census estimate had the population at over 19,200, but the 2020 census put the number at 18,035 people, down from 18,395 in 2010.

I'm not sure if the 2020 number is accurate. While it's possible deaths have outpaced births in the county since 2010, there have been some new homes added, many in the southern area of the county. 

But according to the data, Banks County  had over 400 fewer homes in 2020 than in 2010. How could that be?

There are four census tracts in Banks County and all but one, the west side from Lula down to Maysville, showed a loss in population. 

The result of all that means there likely won't be much change in the county's board districts given the stagnant population, but it also means the county won't qualify for a much grant money as it would have with a more accurate headcount.

I'm not sure why Banks didn't get an accurate count; perhaps it was a reluctance by some people to participate in the count as a way to express anti-government sentiment during a polarized election year.

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While Banks had what appears to be an undercount of people, Jackson County's count showed an explosion of newcomers and a 25% growth in population over the last decade. 

The political impact in Jackson County is going to be large.

We don't yet know the full impact the county will see in its state officials, but a draft plan for new Congressional districts pulls Jackson out of the 9th District and puts it back in the 10th District.

Rep. Jody Hice is stepping down from the 10th District to run for Secretary of State and since 9th District Congressman Rep. Andrew Clyde lives in Jackson County, he will be the presumptive new 10th District Congressman.

Although it would be at the northern edge of the new 10th District boundary, Jackson, along with Barrow, Clarke and Oconee counties, would make up a substantial part of the district's overall population. Other counties in the 10th District are mostly smaller and more rural than the NE Georgia area.

Closer to home, the balance of power will shift as a result of the 2020 census. Both the Jackson County Board of Commissioners and Jackson County Board of Education will get new or redrawn districts that clearly put the west side of the county as the local political center of power.

Growth in the West Jackson and Jefferson areas has been huge over the past decade while the east side of the county has been growing much slower. The result is that a new BOC district has to be created in the west side to accommodate that growth while the BOE districts will have to be redrawn to reflect the new numbers (the BOE already has 5 districts while the BOC only has 4 districts  today.)

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For most newcomers, this info isn't too interesting. It seems like just common sense that political power follows growth trends.

But it's a sea change for Jackson County. Historically, the eastern side of the county had a tremendous amount of political pull in county government operations (although the Jefferson area probably had the most since it was the county seat.) There was a time, not long ago, when the Nicholson and Harrisburg areas were the swing votes in countywide elections.

In addition, the east side just had influence in general. It's one reason that East Jackson High School was built near Nicholson rather than on the west side of the county.

While the west side of the county has been growing for the past 20-30 years, it has never been as politically organized as the other areas of the county.

But that is changing. The towns of Braselton and Hoschton are becoming larger and more organized with a more active group of leaders who are bound to have an impact far beyond the city limits.

In addition, the opening of the new high school in West Jackson this year will create a deeper sense of community in the area, giving citizens something around which to rally. What has been just a sea of disparate subdivisions is slowly coalescing into a real community. 

That means the interest of the west side of Jackson County are going to dominate the agenda for the next two decades. Although the east side of the county is likely to grow with the impact of the SK Battery plant and its spinoffs, it will take time for that area to catch up to the west side, which has a 20-year jump in the growth train. Add to that the large amount of anti-growth sentiment in Commerce and it may take a long time for the east side of the county to regain any kind of real political power (and remember, the new data doesn't include the massive Twin Lakes community in Hoschton that will offset anything we see on the east side during the next decade.)

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So what's likely to change?

Faces. I anticipate a lot of new faces will be on our public agencies in the next few years as newcomers begin to replace native citizens on various government boards.

There will be more anti-growth sentiment in the coming years, too, as the county and cities try to deal with increased traffic and infrastructure demands. Paying for new infrastructure will be a big issue, too.

The amount of political turmoil will increase, too. Growth always creates tensions in a community, as does the transition from status quo leaders to newcomers.

In Jackson County, I expect there will be less emphasis on countywide concerns than on hyper-local issues. The county  is large geographically and divided with nine towns and three school systems. With more people, it becomes more difficult to have a countywide focus as people tend to care only about issues in their own backyard.

That will make governing in the county school system and county government more difficult as both agencies get pulled and tugged by various factions competing for attention. 

Over the next decade, the central area of Jackson County west of Hwy. 129 will become solidly suburban while the area east of Hwy. 129 will mostly be ex-urban and rural. The I-85 corridor will become heavily industrial and commercial into Banks County and beyond.

At some point, Jefferson's commercial area along the bypass will boom; the town has always been under-served with retail establishments, but the area's population growth is bound to lure in all the typical suburban big-box developments.

As all of that happens, land prices will increase and what had been rural farmland will transition into housing or commercial developments.

For better or worse, the face of Jackson County is about to change dramatically.

Mike Buffington is co-publisher of Mainstreet Newspapers. He can be reached at mike@mainstreetnews.com.

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