Auburn mayor sees potential for strong population growth

Ryan Walter of the Auburn Public Works Department maneuvers his crane truck into position May 24 at Festival Plaza. He and several others were setting up the colorful awnings for what might be the last time. The city is planning a major overhaul and development of the area in the coming year. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

AUBURN — The city is growing and the numbers point to a potentially significant growth pattern in the future, Mayor Jason Levesque told attendees at the Metro Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce breakfast Thursday at the Hilton Garden Inn.

This year, the city’s population is about 25,000, according to the US Census Bureau. Based on census data of an average of three people per housing unit, and with about 2,500 units licensed, either under construction or in preliminary discussion, the mayor said he was confident that 1 600 will be built and occupied by 2025, bringing the city’s population to around 30,000.

Lévesque added that 351 units were authorized in May alone.

The focus is on market-rate homes, the mayor explained. “And currently, all of the developments over the past three years – and those under discussion – are a mix of market-priced apartments, single-family, owner-occupied duplexes and triplexes, and over 55 condos. “

“If we can maintain that momentum,” Levesque said, “which I think we easily can depending on location, available space and opportunity, then by 2030 we’ll hit 35,000.”

Assuming Bangor’s population does not grow at a similar rate, Auburn could become the third largest city in the state, and potentially the second largest, surpassing Lewiston. Bangor’s population decreased by 1.88% between 2010 and 2020, according to US Census Bureau figures.

Maine has one of the lowest birth rates in the country, behind only neighbors Vermont and New Hampshire, according to US Census Bureau estimates and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures. Still, net migration was just over 16,000 in 2021, the third highest in the country. Net migration refers to the difference between the number of people moving into a region and the number of people leaving a region.

Since 2012, the state has seen an increase of about 50,000 people in the state, according to state figures. At the same time, the state recorded a decline in labor market participation of 20,000 people. Some left the state, some retired, some went back to school, and some just stopped looking for work.

Auburn Mayor Jason Levesque speaks Thursday at the Metro LA Chamber of Commerce Breakfast at the Hilton Garden Inn in Auburn. Christopher Wheelock/Sun Diary

Levesque said Auburn has had a policy of intrinsic growth for more than 50 years — hoping the birth rate will exceed the death rate. It’s a practice he says doesn’t work. The alternative, Levesque said, is to focus on growing immigration, which attracts more people to live in Auburn.

What many residents may not realize, according to Levesque’s data, is that Auburn’s daytime population exceeds 65,000. “These are people who travel up to an hour here in Auburn to work, get services or go to school.”

But housing remains a huge barrier here and in cities across the country, and it’s not unique to Auburn.

Lévesque credits local schools, colleges, and community colleges for pushing for increased attainment of a bachelor’s or associate’s degree. Grades are up and so are graduation rates, he said.

“We want to encourage our young people to stay here,” he said. “They can leave for a few years, that’s fine. But they have to come back. We do that, we also turn them into ambassadors in order to increase our immigration. This is where our success will be, the success of our workforce.

Partnerships with companies embracing pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship are important in building tomorrow’s workforce in the region. Using a three-legged stool as an analogy, he said education, housing and quality of life were essential to the city’s growth. All three aspects are necessary for success.

According to the mayor, the future of the city depends on education and workforce development.

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