NORTH SMITHFIELD - North Smithfield was recently named the 12th Best Community in Rhode Island, according to Go Local Prov.com.
The town is listed in the Top 15 rankings of the Go Local Prov.com best communities to live in, giving testimony, Town Administrator Paulette D. Hamilton says, to the enduring power of mill towns and their legacies in Rhode Island.
"Our town has great people with big hearts, and represents a safe place to learn, play and live," Hamilton said this week. "We will continue to work toward a goal of improving the great foundation that we have."
This northern mid-sized community embraces a number of mill villages, and touts the village of Slatersville as the First Planned Mill Village in the nation. The town was a central stop on the Great Road's stagecoach route and has a long history of community involvement.
The town is home to nearly 12,000 residents and was one of the few communities in Rhode Island to see increased population, according to the 2010 census.
According to the report on Go Local Prov.com, "North Smithfield combines key community indicators that translate into a 12th-place ranking in 2011. Placing 7th in affordability, 11th in economic condition, and 4th in safety, it makes living easy."
U.S. Census figures released a few months ago showed that North Smithfield gained 1,349 people, or 12.7 percent, in the last decade, making it the town with the second highest percentage of population growth in the state.
Overall, the state's population grew slightly by 0.4 percent to 1,052,567. There were population declines in 16 municipalities.
But North Smithfield bucked that trend with a big jump in new residents. Along with West Greenwich and South Kingstown — the towns with the first and third highest percentage of population growth in the state — North Smithfield saw substantial growth, adding 1,349 residents since the last federal census a decade ago.
In 2000, North Smithfield's population was 10,618. In 2010, that figure jumped to 11,967, which represents a 1,349, or 12.7 gain: the second largest in terms of percentage for all communities in the state.
According to Census figures, the percentage of those over 18 living in North Smithfield rose by 15.4 percent, from 8,238 to 9,511. The percentage of those under 18 living in town increased by 3.2 percent, from 2,379 to 2,456.
Hamilton surmises that part of the reason for the double-digit percentage increase is due to North Smithfield's attractiveness as a "family-friendly and over-55 community."
"I think it's a beautiful town with a rural character and hometown feeling that is in a convenient location with great proximity to major highways," she said. "In addition, we have a low tax rate compared to communities with similar demographics, new business initiatives, a low crime rate, a wide range of resident services, an excellent bond rating, solid finances, a fully funded pension fund, nice homes on large lots, historic preservation districts, a quality school system, and we're leading the way in green and energy related initiatives."
The latest Census figures show that over the last decade, nearby Burrillville grew by 1.0 percent, from 15,796 to 15,955, and Cumberland grew by 5.2 percent, from 31,840 to 33,506. Glocester, on the other hand, decreased by 2.0 percent, from 9,948 to 9,746 people.
In North Smithfield, the shifting of elderly populations and the development of new retirement housing in town may have been the biggest contributor to the new growth.