Despite the city’s investments in quality of life and business growth, Franklin only grew by 1,601 residents in the past 10 years.
Data from the 2020 census says Franklin grew to 25,313 residents from the 23,712 population reported in the 2010 Census.
Most decennial counts in the last 120 years have reported at least 15% growth for Franklin, with growth at over 50% reported between 1990 and 2000. At 6.75%, the growth in the last decade is the second-lowest population increase the city has seen in 120 years, according to historic census data.
Franklin city officials were surprised at how low the growth was, but they knew it would not be as high as in previous counts. Mayor Steve Barnett was expecting the count to put Franklin at around 30,000.
Officials attribute the lack of growth to low housing stock and the slower rate of population replacement that is being seen across the United States.
“Just in general, across the state of Indiana didn’t see population growth outside of the donut counties, so at least we added and did not lose population,” said Krista Linke, Franklin’s community development director.
Barnett is skeptical that the count is completely accurate because of the challenges census takers experienced counting during the pandemic. Still, he doesn’t plan to file an appeal and doesn’t intend to dwell on the number, he said.
“If that’s what it is, that’s what it is. We are going to move forward and hopefully we will see more population growth as we put forward our new housing plans,” Barnett said.
Investing in the future
With city investments in parks, trails and community development and businesses willing to grow in and move to Franklin, housing is the biggest challenge the city faces, Barnett said. Part of the plan to grow housing is already in the works, with 1,140 homes that are set to develop over the next five to eight years.
City officials are being strategic about which housing developments to move forward, Barnett said. Proposals for new housing developments are frequent, but only the best suited for responsible growth according to the city’s comprehensive plan go before the plan commission and the city council for approval, he said.
Currently planned new developments include 125 lots in the Westwind at Cumberland subdivision planned on Westview Drive, 387 lots at the Bluffs at Youngs Creek subdivision on Nineveh Road, 240 lots planned in the Kingsbridge subdivision off of US 31, 66 lots in Homesteads at Hillview at the Hillview Country Club and 322 lots at The Highlands on Hurricane Road.
Not all of the homes in the pipeline for construction are affordable for the average Franklin worker, but that’s OK, Barnett said. Both starter homes for the average worker and move-up homes for wealthier families are needed in the market.
The average wage in Franklin is $19.60 and online mortgage calculators suggest that wage could buy a home in the low $200,000 range. Only two of the subdivisions, Westwind and Bluffs at Youngs Creek, are priced in a range that is affordable for that worker, at $200,000 to $250,000 and $230,000 to $325,000, respectively.
Kingsbridge straddles the mid-price range with homes priced $275,000 to $450,000, while The Highlands is more expensive at $325,000 to $450,000. Homesteads is exclusively high-end at $550,000 to $800,000.
City officials acknowledge the importance of affordable housing, but say affordable housing projects are hard to come by. With the high prices of building materials, builders are proposing higher priced homes to cover their investment and make more profit, Linke said.
Neighbors also typically object if a new neighborhood worth less than their own is proposed, as was the case with Westwind and Kingsbridge earlier this year.
“With the cost of lumber and everything the way it is right now, a builder can’t build a house for less than $200,000 — that’s what we’ve been told — even if they’re doing everything as efficiently as they can,” Linke said. “If we do get a proposal for that price, we get a lot of remonstrance about that. It is hard to balance the needs with the neighbors.”
So, with the housing developments in the works and others in the future, Barnett’s goal is to move forward balanced price ranges that will build new homes at all prices, with the hope that some starter homes will be freed up by families seeking a move up home.
Having homes at all price ranges will hopefully attract new residents while making sure those who live here have a place to move up to as their salary increases with career moves, he said.
“When you see ‘Help Wanted’ signs everywhere, it’s easy to say the extra unemployment pay is the reason, but that is not the whole picture. The fact is, we are not retaining our talent, our young adults are graduating and moving away,” Barnett said. “One of the main reasons for this is they can’t find places where they can live. We need to not only attract talent, but first, strive to keep our local talent. In addition, quality, affordable housing in safe neighborhoods is needed for both young and old alike.”
Whether housing or commercial, each new development comes with concerns from neighbors who fear they are losing the small town they know and love. That’s why the goal is responsible growth, Barnett said. As someone who has seen the city double in size over his lifetime, Barnett also does not want to lose the small town feel, he said.
The iconic, quaint drive from Interstate 65 through downtown to Johnson Memorial Hospital is the picture of Franklin’s charm, Barnett said. No plans for development will ruin with that charm, but will bring new tax dollars to sustain and build on it, he said.
“You grow outside of that area to sustain it,” Barnett said. “That’s what this is all about.”
The idea of the change is hard to cope with, but more houses will bring more businesses and restaurants that many desire, such as Chik-Fil-A and Texas Roadhouse. If housing growth continues as envisioned, Franklin could attract both restaurants in the coming years, he said.
“We are on the radar, they are watching us real close,” Barnett said. “They are wanting to be here in the next few years.”