When a committee of planners suggested two years ago that Horry County’s population would nearly double over the next 19 years, my eyebrows shot up with skepticism.

That much growth in such a short period of time seemed unlikely.

But nowadays, as I drive around the county and see huge subdivisions sprouting up where tobacco fields used to grow, I find those population projections totally believable.

The question now is what are we going to do with all of these people?

In 2017, Horry County Council commissioned the IMAGINE 2040 Steering Committee to look into the future to predict how much growth can be expected and what will be needed to provide for the population boom.

The 14-person committee comprised a variety of expertise including real estate, economic development, environmental, agricultural professional and community volunteers.

After nearly two years of study and taking public input, the planning committee sent its findings to Horry County Council and it was used as a basis for a new land use plan. (The IMAGINE 2040 report can be read online and I suggest anyone interested in the future of Horry County read it.)

When I moved to Horry County in 1973, the population was 75,000 people. By the turn of the century that number had grown to 196,629 residents. More recent census data shows 354,000 souls call Horry County home. About half of the newcomers hailed from neighboring Southern states, a little over 31 per cent have migrated from the Northeast and near 9 percent from the Midwest.

Conway, when I arrived, had a little over 5,000 residents. According to IMAGINE 2040, Conway’s population will be 75,000 in less than two decades from now.

The rapid rate of growth won’t be unique to Conway.

More than 19,000 people will live near Aynor, 72,000 in Little River, 35,000 in Longs and 11,685 in Loris.

Here’s where it gets really crazy.

Myrtle Beach, home to 21,211 in 1970, is projected to have 165,000 residents by 2040.

And, the area between Conway and Myrtle Beach will have 185,000 people living where bears and deer used to roam unmolested just a few years ago.

If this growth transpires, current residents can anticipate twice the traffic on busy roads like U.S. 501, less access to already crowded beaches, more crime, and higher demand for governmental services.

If current trends continue, older citizens will lead the migration. Currently, senior citizens represent 37 percent of the county’s population, compared to the national average of 28 percent.

It’s little wonder Conway Medical Center, McLeod Health, Tidelands Health and other hospitals see a need to expand.

Much of the growth forecast by IMAGINE 2040 takes place in rural areas of the county. This does not bode well for county council.

Residents living in unincorporated areas already clamor for city-level services such as police and fire protection and recreational opportunities. The demand will grow.

The times they are a changing. I hope we’re ready for it.

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Steve Robertson is owner and publisher of the Waccamaw Publishers family of community newspapers

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