Johnson City, Tenn. (WJHL) – Over the last decade or so, the population of Washington County has increased by about 11,000 residents, or about 8%, according to 2020 US Census data.

In the last year, however, the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce has learned that the influx of people settling in Northeast Tennessee is, on the whole, rather young.

“Fifty-seven percent of the people that have moved here into Johnson City in the past 15 months are 42 years and younger,” Chamber President and CEO Bob Cantler said.

The largest portion of those new residents are considered millennials, who make up 36.4% of all relocations, according to the chamber’s findings.

Cantler believes the trend is a product of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People are moving here, and they’re bringing their own jobs with them,” he said. “The younger generation is realizing that with a cell phone and a laptop, I can live where I want to live and still work for a multinational company that’s located in a different location.”

However, city officials and local leaders didn’t expect such a rapid migration to the area, and it’s caused some issues as it pertains to housing.

“Finding a home, a starter home if you’re a young person, is very difficult in the area,” Cantler said. “What that has done is create a waiting list – so we have apartments that are 90-something percent occupancy that have a waiting list attached to it.”

Harry Pilos of Delphi Development feels it is these apartment projects that are the key to growing communities in the South.

“Because that’s a stepping stone to the permeant resident and getting young people to emigrate to a community,” he said. “That’s going to be their first step.”

But Johnson City, Pilos says, offers many features that make growth even more likely.

“Because of the college – there’s this unique opportunity to recruit and retain young people that get married, have children, buy homes and become part of the community,” he said.

Pilos recently pulled a proposal for an apartment complex off Browns Mill Road due to large amounts of rock at the proposed building site. It’s a challenge that could reappear, but it has not dampened his interest in developing other sites in the area.

Now a resident of Ashville, North Carolina, Pilos grew up in Raleigh before it blossomed into the city it is today.

“I have a romantic, nostalgic view of small towns in the South and all the virtues that come with that, frankly that I’d like to see more communities hang on to,” he said. “Having said that, we’ve got to deal with the future and the future of the young people, and they have to have housing or these communities will not grow.”

Growth can sometimes be accompanied by discomfort. But, if it is managed properly, the growth can turn into a major asset.

“It helps our workforce, it helps our quality of life, it adds an energy and a vibe to the community,” Cantler said “Growth is good – healthy growth is great.”

Johnson City Director of Development, Preston Mitchell, believes, however, that the housing growth within the city limits needs to be balanced and diverse.

“Not only diversification in affordability, because that’s absolutely critical, but in the type and scale,” Mitchell said.

Affordable housing, smaller-scale projects and additional large-scale developments and apartment complexes will all play a crucial role in the best-case scenario.

“We’ve got to have all three in order for this growth that [Cantler’s] talking about,” he emphasized. “We’ve got to have all three for us to realize the kind of success that everyone is hoping for.”