Mecklenburg is still growing — just not as fast as its SC neighbors, census data show

Although Mecklenburg County added more residents over the past year than any other county in the region, its neighbors grew at a much faster rate, newly released census data show.

In fact, six of eight nearby counties had a bigger growth rate than Mecklenburg between 2017 and 2018, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Only Gaston and Catawba counties did not.

Two South Carolina counties — York and Lancaster — grew at a faster pace than any of the area’s North Carolina counties. Their 3 percent growth was double Mecklenburg’s rate of 1.5%.

As Charlotte expands at its edges, surrounding counties have seen a flurry of development to keep up with the movement outward. That sprawling growth has been a key topic for local leaders as they tackle the issues that come with it, like infrastructure, cost of living and transportation.

“(The growth) just underscores the need to think regionally,” said Chuck McShane, vice president of business analytics and data for the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance. “People aren’t necessarily going to consider political borders or county borders when they’re looking for a place to stay.”

While many of those moving just across the border to South Carolina are commuting into Charlotte for jobs, McShane said employment opportunities are increasing in the surrounding counties.

Multiple high-profile companies have relocated across the state line in recent years, driven by tax incentives and cheap land. Those companies include RoundPoint Mortgage Servicing Corp., LPL Financial and Movement Mortgage.

In all, the Charlotte region added 44,500 people from 2017-18. Mecklenburg added the most — about 16,500 during that time — and about 175,000 since 2010, an increase of around 19%. That brings the county’s total population to 1.09 million residents.

Some other highlights from the data:

Brunswick County was the fastest growing county in the Carolinas and the fourth-fastest growing county in the nation. Brunswick, a coastal county that is home to Oak Island, saw its population increase 4.6 percent between 2017 and last year, to 136,750.

The fastest growing South Carolina county was Horry County, home to Myrtle Beach. Horry’s population increased 3.5 percent to 344,150.

Nearly one-third of the counties in the Carolinas saw their population decrease. Williamsburg County, S.C., had the biggest drop at 1.8 percent, from 2017-18. Williamsburg is north of Charleston.

North Carolina added 113,000 people from 2017-18. It’s population now sits at nearly 10.4 million.

South Carolina added 63,000, reaching 5.08 million.

Bob Coats, the Governor’s Census Bureau liason, said data that will be released later this year on the characteristics of the population — such as race, age and income — will help local governments plan for the challenges of population growth. And he said the upcoming 2020 census will play a critical role too.

“The data we’re getting today from the Census Bureau is very much the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

Danielle Chemtob covers economic growth and development for the Observer. She’s a 2018 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill and a California transplant.
Gavin Off has been the Charlotte Observer’s data reporter since 2011. Previously, he worked as a data reporter at the Tulsa World and at Scripps Howard News Service in Washington, D.C.