Charlotte bypassed Fort Worth, Texas, and is now the nation’s 16th most populous city, new census estimates released Thursday show.
Charlotte gained more residents than all but seven other cities between 2012 and last year. Its population stands at an estimated 792,862 people.
“I expect Charlotte will continue to move up in the rankings,” said John Chesser, a senior analyst at the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute.
A combination of available land along with a boom in apartment complexes and other multifamily units is helping drive the growth, Chesser said, as is people’s desire to live closer to where they work. Urban areas provide more job opportunities than some of the region’s more rural communities.
Chesser authored a recent study that found the urban counties of Mecklenburg and Wake accounted for almost half of all the growth in North Carolina since 2010.
Charlotte’s growth rate of 2.4 percent between 2012 and 2013 also outpaced Raleigh’s rate of 2 percent, a pattern that has held steady over the past several years. The Raleigh metro area, however, grew at a faster rate than the Charlotte metro area last year, census figures show.
Elsewhere in the Charlotte region, communities near the city or Mecklenburg County continued to grow at a brisk pace.
Huntersville, for instance, cracked the 50,000 population mark, the only town in the Carolinas to do so. It was one of only 14 communities nationwide that grew to 50,000 people last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Local officials were not surprised by the increase, said Greg Vincent, Huntersville’s assistant town manager. The town continued to add residents even during the economic downturn, he said, boosted in part by its proximity to Charlotte.
Chesser said Huntersville’s location between job centers in Charlotte and the Lake Norman area will help it continue to grow.
“(The growth) is good news, but the other side is we have to provide more services,” Vincent said. To help with that, he said, voters approved a $30 million bond referendum in 2012 that will fund improvements to roads, parks and recreation facilities, and public infrastructure.
Other regional growth
Between 2010 and last year, no town grew faster in the Charlotte area than Harrisburg, which increased by nearly 20 percent during that time. Its population is 13,788.
The Cabarrus County town is close to Charlotte while offering low taxes and good schools in a family-friendly environment, Mayor Pro Tem Chad Baucom said. There have been some growing pains, he acknowledged, including an increase in traffic.
And more new residents are on the way. Last month, Baucom said, the town approved a 123-lot subdivision off of Robinson Church Road, while other subdivisions are still in the works.
Another hot spot was Waxhaw, in western Union County. Its 9.2 percent growth rate from 2012 to last year was tops in the region and one of the biggest in the Carolinas.
Like Huntersville, more residents are on the way.
In 2012, the town issued 316 new residential building permits. Last year, Waxhaw issued 503 permits and is on pace to hit about 600 this year, said Greg Mahar, Waxhaw’s interim town manager and director of planning and community development.
Union County towns near the Mecklenburg line, such as Waxhaw, Indian Trail and Stallings, remain a lure for residents, Chesser said. But some of the region’s growth is shifting across the state line.
After Waxhaw, the South Carolina towns of Tega Cay, Fort Mill and Lancaster had the highest growth rate in the area last year. Easy access to U.S. 521 and jobs around the Ballantyne area help stoke that growth, Chesser said.
Some losing population
Other highlights in the new census data include:
• Morganton, Valdese and Kings Mountain were among the handful of towns in the region that lost population last year.
• Mount Pleasant, S.C., outside of Charleston, had a 4.1 percent growth rate last year, the biggest rate in the Carolinas for places with 50,000 or more people, and ninth-greatest nationwide for larger towns or cities. Communities in the South and the West dominated the list of those fastest-growing places.
• Finally, Charlotte has a ways to go to surpass the next most populous city. That’s Columbus, Ohio, which had an estimated population of 822,553, or nearly 30,000 more people than Charlotte.