New Braunfels was once thought of as a quaint retirement town between San Antonio and Austin, but its identity is shifting as the growth of the city is driven by younger generations.
Who is moving to New Braunfels and why? How is this already affecting New Braunfels? What does it mean for the future?
The numbers show the once sleepy town of New Braunfels is waking up — and growing younger.
The story numbers tell
In 2017, the largest cohort living in New Braunfels was between the ages of 25 and 39 — Millennials. Millennials made up approximately 15,139 of New Braunfels estimated 79,152 residents, according to Census Bureau data.
The next largest cohort? Generation Z with members ranging between the ages of 10 and 24, who accounted for about 13,967 residents of New Braunfels.
Following that was Generation X, with approximately 13,568 residents between the ages of 40 and 54.
Approximately 52,584 residents — or 66.43% of residents — in New Braunfels were under the age of 55 in 2017.
Once thought of as a retirement town, New Braunfels is getting younger. New Braunfels median average age in 2017 was 36.1 years old, according to Census Bureau data.
“At one time, the average age (in New Braunfels) was at the retirement age, and your city doesn’t last long if you’ve got that perspective, or those age groups,” said Chester Jenke, vice president of economic development for the Greater New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce.
A talent attraction scorecard report released earlier this year by Examination Management Services Inc. showed Comal County ranked fourth in the nation for growth in Gen Z-ers with 64.5 percent, third for growth in Millennials with 58 percent and fifth for growth in Gen X-ers from 2013-2017 with 42.3 percent.
Guadalupe County ranked first in the nation for growth in Gen Z-ers with 75.1 percent and in growth for Millennials with 66.8 percent between 2013-2017.
Neither New Braunfels’ county ranked in the top five for growth in Baby Boomers (ages 55 and up), showing the growth in the two counties is stemming from younger generations.
“That’s awesome — that is an incredible fact, when you look at the population increase is greater in the younger generations,” said Mayor Barron Casteel. “To me that’s what evidences the value of this community, because they’re picking this community.”
The drivers of growth
What is it about New Braunfels that is brining in young people exactly? What is it that Generation X-ers, Millennials and Generation Z-ers saw in the small retirement community of New Braunfels?
In a word, opportunity.
Job opportunities opened up as businesses planted themselves in New Braunfels, said Michael Meek, president and CEO of the chamber.
“The opportunities were here for them to be able to come back,” Meek said. “We’ve gone through a period of generations here where, you got out of high school and went to college, you pretty much didn’t come back because there weren’t a lot of opportunities to come back … So that’s a totally different dynamic that wasn’t there 30 years ago, 20 years ago.”
There are two other major reasons people are moving to New Braunfels, Casteel said.
“One, it’s — it’s not a secret that New Braunfels is probably one of the more beautiful spots in the state of Texas,” Casteel said. “Just the natural resources that we have here, the look of our community, the traditions, the people that live here.”
The second reason is that people can tell this is a community that really cares about its city, and its residents, Casteel said.
“They recognize the value of a community that reinvests,” Casteel said.
Amber Chapa, a Millennial, moved to New Braunfels at the end of last summer. Chapa said what drew her and her young family was the great neighborhood and schools for her kids to grow up in.
“We liked the location of New Braunfels in relation to the bigger cities like San Antonio and Austin,” Chapa said. “We liked how New Braunfels had small town charm but also was — is growing with modern amenities as well. We liked the cost of housing, all the new elementary school options — and basically being able to get the whole package.”
Maddy Stryker, another Millennial resident who moved to New Braunfels in 2018, said she’s loved how welcoming the town has been and how easy it’s been to get involved.
“My husband was raised here and I love the area,” Stryker said. “We wanted a place that would be our forever home and somewhere we could eventually raise a family.”
A shifting identity
New Braunfels is in a period of transition, a period that is seeing its identity change.
“If you look at the age of the City Council right now, versus what it was 10 or 15 years ago, it wasn’t that long ago that when I’d go to a council meeting and I’d count maybe one person who was still on the workforce out of seven,” Meek said. “Now there’s only one that’s not on the workforce, and that makes a big difference when you talk about taxes, and fees or projects.”
The age of the council is a good litmus test to show that the city is in a period of transition, Jenke said.
“I think that brings a fresh voice, brings a fresh thought process,” Jenke said. “It also brings to the table their perception of what New Braunfels needs to be to keep our population growing younger if you will.”
Both Casteel and Meek said they’ve seen a huge explosion of young involvement as groups pop up in New Braunfels in which members of the newer generations can get involved.
“We have the Jaycees, and we have the NB Next group, we’ve got all these groups — 20 years ago we couldn’t even have one,” Meek said.
The passing of the 2013 and 2019 bonds reflect young people moving in want to continue to see New Braunfels grow in amenities and activities.
“With the passage of the 2019 bond program, I think that we’re continuing to address the needs of a younger population,” said City Manager Robert Camareno. “For example the sports complex is one example of a project that will address the needs of a younger population because they will have children.”
Younger generations moving into New Braunfels are bringing a boom in businesses and jobs, Jenke said.
“The other part of that equation, if you look at it from that perspective of the retirement community, those Millennials also bring new stuff to town that wouldn’t probably be here if it was just retirement folks,” Jenke said. “Would we really have a Chili’s? Would we really have a BJ’s? Those restaurants are targeted at the 25-35 to 40 year olds, not the 65 to 70 year olds.”
Yet everyone enjoys going to these new establishments, Jenke said.
“If you go into there and look at one of those restaurants on a Friday night, it’s packed and you’ve got a very good cross section of what New Braunfels is,” Jenke said.
The vibrant tomorrow
What is great about the young people moving to New Braunfels is that they are coming into town because they want to build on what already exists, Meek said.
“I saw it in Wurstfest several years ago,” Meek said. “I was a committee chair of the security committee, and when … I looked around the room and there’s only one person there older than me, and I thought to myself, ‘Hey, they’ve got this.’”
There comes a time when every generation must pass the torch, and New Braunfels will see the largest group of children grow up as New Braunfelsers than ever before. These kids are learning early on the importance of New Braunfels, Meek said.
“We have gotten people involved in the 175th (New Braunfels celebration) that can put on the 200th 25 years from now,” Meek said. “Twenty-one years from now, they’ll be planning the 200th. So that’s cool to have that kind of talent in town to do that.”