Charlotte metro: Still high-growth, still strong at core

Of metro areas with more than 1 million people, Charlotte ranked ninth nationally in population growth from 2011 to 2012. That growth was strongest at the center of the metro area, in Mecklenburg County, which outpaced the suburban counties in the region for the second year.

Charlotte’s ninth rank in growth came from a list of million-plus population metros the Atlantic Cities site compiled. This ranking also showed strong growth returning to places like Orlando and Phoenix that had suffered more than many parts of the country in the economic downturn. Separate analysis by, which compares the 2012 figures to 2000, shows Raleigh as the fastest-growing million-plus metro since 2000, with Charlotte No. 5 (click here for full story).

The home counties for these metros were among top 10 fastest growing counties in the Carolinas since the last census in 2010 (see chart below). Wake County (Raleigh) is fourth, and Mecklenburg (Charlotte) fifth. The fastest growing N.C. counties since 2010 are Hoke (near Fort Bragg) and Harnett (south of Raleigh) that have continued to experience strong growth related to changes in military bases occurring nationally. Growth in the Charleston area (and the coastal centers in both states) is another emerging trend since 2010. Of the top 10 counties below, three (Berkeley, Dorchester and Charleston) are in the Charleston area (scroll below for maps).

Note: These changes are calculated on Census 2010 compared to the 2012 estimate of population. Census estimates include adjusted base estimates to account for growth between the time of the 2010 count and the time of the first estimate. Sources: Census 2010, census 2012 estimate of population.

For Charlotte: Growth in the core continues to exceed suburbs

One of the most notable trends since 2010 is that many larger metros across the country have experienced stronger growth in the core county than in the surrounding suburban counties. Throughout the 2000s, the most rapidly growing counties in the Charlotte region were the suburban counties of Union, York and Cabarrus. In fact, Union County was the single fastest growing county in the state between 2000 and 2010. In the two years since the 2010 Census, Charlotte’s home county, Mecklenburg has continued to outpace those suburban counties in growth rate. The maps below show the percent change in population from 2010 to 2012 in the Carolinas. Click on the map for an interactive version of the same map that shows data for each county.

Will Mecklenburg growth again be outpaced by suburban counties as the housing market returns to strength? A combination of national trends and local characteristics may offer some clues.

Bill Graves, John H. Biggs Faculty Fellow in the Department of Geography and Earth Science at UNC Charlotte, sees several factors that may favor continued strength in Mecklenburg in the near future. “First, there is a large amount of underutilized land in the inner core, and I think we are seeing an increased tolerance for density even in the most affluent areas. That is certainly what is happening along the edges of Dilworth and the Queens area. Second, the Blue Line Extension [light rail] is going to open up a great deal more space for multifamily development between Ninth Street and Sugar Creek – even the [1.5-mile] streetcar stub has the potential to change how the public views the area west of Presbyterian Hospital. Third, poverty is rapidly increasing in some suburbs, which has the potential to change views on school districts (which lacked associations with poverty in the 2000s). Fourth, I have seen some changes in the preference of young folks who are just entering the workforce to select urban areas. In some recent surveys of undergraduates, more than 70 percent claim to be willing to pay extra to live in a ‘vibrant urban setting’ when they graduate.”

Concentration of population

The other trend in these data is the continued decline in rural population. During the 2000s, only a few counties in the Carolinas experienced an overall population loss, almost exclusively in rural areas (click here for more information). With two years of population data since the last census, a substantial number of rural counties in both Carolinas show declining population. The big picture for the two states is continued concentration of population growth centered on the two large N.C. metros and coastal centers in both states.

John Chesser

*2012 county estimates of population are available from the U.S. Census Bureau. Click here for further explanation, the full dataset and methodology.