NC’s growth concentrated in a small group of counties
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Forsyth County continues to grow at a slower rate than the state but it has lots of company, new estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau show.
Forsyth County’s population grew by 0.94 percent from 2012 to 2013, according to the Census Bureau, during a period when the state’s population grew 1.02 percent.
The 2013 population estimates find the state’s growth was concentrated in two counties — Mecklenburg and Wake — which together accounted for almost half of the state’s total population increase.
Meanwhile, 43 of the state’s 100 counties lost population, and another 33 — Forsyth among them — grew more slowly than the state as a whole.
That leaves 24 countries growing faster than average, although only four added more than 5,000 people to their 2012 totals.
“Young people are going to where the jobs are, and they are more interested in living in urban areas,” said Matthew Dolge, the director of the Piedmont Triad Regional Council.
During the year, the state’s population grew 99,696, or 1.02 percent, to a 2013 total of 9,848,060. Mecklenburg County added 23,006; Wake added 22,146.
The growth in those two counties was fueled by migration: Each added about 14,000 people as a result of people moving in from other parts of the U.S. or from abroad. And the migration from other parts of the country was by far the biggest factor.
Forsyth County’s estimated 2013 population rose by 3,370 to 361,220. According to the Census Bureau estimates, only 1,570 people were added to Forsyth County’s population through migration.
At least Forsyth County grew. In the nine other counties of Northwest North Carolina, only Davidson, Davie and Watauga had an increase in population and that was only 728 combined. Six other counties in the region lost almost 1,000 people altogether.
The new numbers showed a continuation of a trend for higher growth in the state’s larger urban counties than in their surrounding counties.
In the Triad, only Guilford County grew slightly faster than the state rate, although the increase was about 1.1 percent. Still, with Randolph County growing by an anemic 0.05 percent and Alamance County adding only about 700 people, Guilford’s increase of almost 5,600 looked astronomical.
Rockingham County lost almost 800 people between 2012 and 2013, the Census Bureau estimates, making it the “biggest loser” in the state. Surry County’s population decreased by almost 500.
It takes time to rebrand a former factory town as a tourist destination, but Dolge said some places are making the switch.
“Mount Airy generates a whole lot of traffic in tourism,” Dolge said. “Stokes has done a great job in recreation. We need to revitalize the smaller downtowns and offer folks amenities. What is happening over time is that the industries in downtowns have gone away. We have to repurpose and re-task those areas.”
Recent trends showing a concentration of population growth in the central cores of urban areas mean that suburban areas may have lost some of their appeal, said Russell Smith, an associate professor of geography at Winston-Salem State University.
In 2007, Union County, just outside Charlotte, was one of the fastest-growing counties in the country. In 2013, it didn’t even make the top five in North Carolina.
“The marketplace is speaking, and maybe after 20 years the dream of living in a suburban community, living in a rural area and being close to a city, is not all it is cracked up to be,” Smith said.
An up-and-coming hot spot in North Carolina was Wilmington, which saw a metropolitan growth of almost twice the state rate. Most coastal counties in North Carolina grew at a rate faster than the state.
Dolge said the growth trends in North Carolina show that young people have at least an attractive in-state destination.
“In the past a lot of people were going to Washington and Atlanta, and now Charlotte and the Triangle area are hot areas to go to,” he said. “What we have to do in the Triad is let people know about the jobs we have.”