Most lists that catalog the fastest-growing cities in the U.S. tend to focus on places over a certain population—usually 100,000—which is why Austin is frequently placed at the top of that list. But if you look at the numbers without those restrictions, Austinites will find that their paltry 2.8% annual growth rate is basically the equivalent of standing still, compared to their less-heralded neighbor to the south: ol’ San Marvelous, with its official 2012 Census population of 50,001, is growing at a staggering rate of 8% per year. 

As the Austin American-Statesman reports, that’s not exactly a surprise, when you consider what San Marcos has going for it: 

San Marcos has many of the amenities that Austin provides, on a smaller scale.

Situated about halfway between Austin and San Antonio, it offers job opportunities in both markets. But the average home is going for about $175,000 in San Marcos, real estate agents said. That is cheaper than most homes in Austin, and it gets most buyers a newer three-bedroom, two-bath home in a subdivision close to town or an older home on half an acre in the country, said Robby Roden of San Marcos-based 3Z Realty.

Then, there is the feel of San Marcos.

On a recent sunny weekday afternoon, students from Texas State University strolled along LBJ Drive past a burger joint, art house movie theater and several resale shops full of retro styles. The university sits just north of the lively downtown. Nearby, a pristine river cuts the city in half. It offers much of what Austin does, without many big-city hassles[…]

All of that surely does sound charming, and the fact that, even in the typically terrible traffic on I-35, it’s still not more than an hour to Austin or San Antonio, gives San Marcos a best-of-both-worlds quality: If you’re moving to the region from a place where an hour-long commute is the norm, San Marcos can give you everything you want.

Of course, it’s not just the college town to the south of Austin that’s growing so quickly. San Marcos may have the most eye-popping growth rate in the country (by the time you get to #10 on the list—Meridian, Ohio—you’re down to just a 4% growth rate), but it’s hardly the only formerly-small Texas town that is booming. Four of the ten fastest-growing cities in the U.S. are here in Texas, and three of them are in the Austin metro area: in addition to San Marcos, there’s #4 Cedar Park, and #7 Georgetown. 

Cedar Park’s population growth has been an even more dramatic spike than that of San Marcos: It’s more than doubled in size since 2000, during which time it’s gone from 26,000 to 59,000 today. But the biggest spike occurred between 1990 and 2000, when it ballooned from a sleepy little town of 5,000 to that 26,000 figure. Meanwhile Georgetown, with its small college population and adorable town square, fills much the same niche that San Marcos does, trading proximity to San Antonio for being even closer to Austin.

All of this reflects back onto Austin, of course; while the Statesman’s article makes note of the abundance of jobs in San Marcos, it’s probably safe to say that none of these small cities would be growing at the rate that they are if the nation’s fastest-growing large city weren’t right there in the middle. But that also doesn’t explain the second fastest-growing Texas city: Frisco, the Dallas suburb that, since 1990, has grown from a mere 6,000 residents to a staggering 128,000 people in 2012. 

That’s had a major impact on home prices in the suburb, as prices have gone up by nearly $100,000 since October 2011. Ultimately, Frisco’s story—as Austin’s growth continues to make it less “quirky college town” and more “very important metro area”—could well be the story of San Marcos, Cedar Park, and Georgetown. Even the small towns, these days, are bigger in Texas. 

(image via Flickr)