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Charlotte region is newcomer hub

Despite a tough economic climate, the Charlotte region remains popular with transplants.

Newcomers propelled two local counties to rank among the nation's fastest growing in 2007. Union County ranked seventh among fast-growing counties with populations of more than 10,000. Mecklenburg, meanwhile, was 10th in sheer number of people gained in 2007. It added about 32,000 people.

Union County's residential boom has strained its water and sewer systems and left schools overcrowded. Still, it hasn't stopped the influx.

The county has grown at a faster rate each year since 2002. Its population grew to about 185,000, according to a Census estimate. That's up almost 50 percent from 2000.

Overall, the 11-county Charlotte region grew by about 79,000. Mecklenburg, with a population of 867,000, is by far the region's biggest county. It grew by 3.8 percent.

One of the city's biggest areas of growth has been uptown, a change highlighted in 2008 by the success of the ACC men's basketball tournament.

Held at Time Warner Cable Arena in the heart of uptown, more than 25,000 visitors bounced back and forth between the games and their hotels, and uptown's more than 110 restaurants and 50 nightclubs. Contrast that with 1994, when the city hosted the NCAA's Men's Final Four. City leaders scrambled then to create a temporary entertainment district they hoped would leave fans with a favorable impression of the Queen City.

At the time, uptown was one big office park, closing at the end of the work day. The center city had fewer than 15 restaurants and only one true nightclub, Mythos.

Perhaps most important has been the growth in uptown residents. Today about 11,000 people call the area home and many more are expected as new condominiums come online and more entertainment venues open. Officials predict the population could reach 25,000 by 2020.

Charlotte Center City Partners has even started pushing for a new high school downtown. Center City officials argue that uptown is centrally located between Myers Park and West Charlotte and that public transportation makes it an economical choice for a new school.

So while recent statistics show that average Charlotte-area home prices have fallen for the first time over a 12-month period since 1991, Charlotte's historically steady market, population growth and strong job outlook will help the city stay afloat in this increasingly sluggish economy.

And those are factors that will likely continue to make the region a hot relocation destination.