Mecklenburg County officially broke the 1 million population mark last year, making it the first Carolinas county to cross that threshold, census data released Thursday show.
The county population stands at an estimated 1.01 million, according to the Census Bureau.
“It’s definitely a big headline to break that mark,” said Laura Simmons, a demographic expert at the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute. “We’ve been pretty close for several years.”
Meanwhile, Wake County came up just short, with a population of 998,691.
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It’s only a matter of time before Wake overtakes Mecklenburg, although it’s not clear exactly when that will happen, demographers say.
Wake has been growing at a slightly faster clip than Mecklenburg over the past several years, and has more room for development.
The big day
It’s unknown exactly when Mecklenburg hit the 1 million mark.
In 2013, the Charlotte Chamber estimated that milestone would occur in September 2013, based on census estimates and other factors, including net migration patterns and birth and death rates.
The Census Bureau does not make such precise pronouncements, but provides annual population estimates for the previous July. So even as its growth rate slowed, Mecklenburg broke the mark sometime between July 1, 2013, and July 1, 2014.
So why Mecklenburg?
Experts cited a number of factors, including an improving economy, pro sports teams, national conventions, a good climate, proximity to the beach and mountains, and a diverse social mix.
While many regions might have a couple of those qualities, the Charlotte area has all of them, said Bob Coats, the governor’s liaison to the Census Bureau.
With greater growth comes greater responsibilities for meeting newcomers’ needs.
That includes dealing with roads, traffic, public transportation and related issues, Coats said.
Around the region
Mecklenburg had the highest growth rate in the region between 2010 and last year. But unlike the past three years, its annual growth rate last year was not as big as other counties.
And suburban counties like Cabarrus and Union are seeing more growth as they rebound from the recession and the housing market keeps improving, UNCC urban geographer and associate professor Bill Graves said.
The Charlotte metro area bypassed the Pittsburgh region to become the 22nd-biggest metro area in the nation, records show. The Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia metro area population stands at 2.4 million, a 1.8 percent increase from 2013.
And the Carolinas is home to the nation’s second-fastest-growing metro area: Myrtle Beach, where its 3.2 growth rate was only behind a Florida metro area west of Orlando called The Villages.
Charlotte vs. Raleigh population
2013: Charlotte, 792,862; Raleigh, 431,746
2014: Mecklenburg County, 1.01 million; Wake County, 998,691
2014: Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia metro area, 2.4 million; Raleigh metro area, 1.2 million; Durham-Chapel Hill metro area, 542,710
Regional county growth leaders, 2013-14
Lancaster, S.C., 3.3 percent*
Union, 2.8 percent*
York, S.C., 2.5 percent
Cabarrus, 2.4 percent
Mecklenburg, 2 percent
*Union’s rate was third-highest in North Carolina; Lancaster’s was tops in South Carolina.
Where’d they go?
Some 67 of 146 Carolinas counties lost population last year, including Burke, Catawba and Chester, S.C.
The million-person club
Mecklenburg joins 42 other counties with a population of 1 million or more. Topping the list is Los Angeles County with 10.1 million people.