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N.C. hits a milestone: 10 million people

Commuters exit Charlotte on US 74. Propelled largely by growth in its two largest urban centers, North Carolina’s population crossed the 10 million mark in the past year.
Commuters exit Charlotte on US 74. Propelled largely by growth in its two largest urban centers, North Carolina’s population crossed the 10 million mark in the past year. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Propelled largely by growth in the Charlotte and Raleigh areas, North Carolina’s population passed the 10 million mark in the past year, according to newly released estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The state remains the nation’s ninth-most populous, just behind Georgia and just ahead of Michigan.

From July 1, 2014, to July 1, 2015, North Carolina added 102,415 residents, more than all but five other states, according to Census estimates. That works out to an average of 281 new residents each day. The state’s population increased by 1 percent over that period, to an estimated 10,042,802.

In the past year, North Carolina added more new residents than all but five other states.

That continues a pattern of rapid growth that has lasted decades. Since 1970, the state’s population has roughly doubled.

“It speaks to a huge transformation of North Carolina,” said Ferrel Guillory, director of the program on public life at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Since 2010, about two-thirds of the state’s growth has been in the Charlotte and Triangle areas, according to Rebecca Tippett, director of Carolina Demography at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Carolina Population Center.

County estimates showed that Mecklenburg County’s population had topped 1 million by 2014, while Wake County’s had approached that figure.

Flocking to jobs

Experts and public officials point to a number of factors driving the growth: desirable jobs, good schools, nice weather, beautiful natural resources and a relatively low cost of living.

Newcomers who moved from other states were responsible for most of North Carolina’s recent growth.

“With our growing economy, great colleges and universities and quality of life, from the mountains to the coast, nothing compares to North Carolina,” Gov. Pat McCrory said.

Newcomers who moved from other states were responsible for most of North Carolina’s recent population growth. About 62 percent of the increase resulted from domestic and international migration. Births also exceeded deaths, further boosting the population.

Despite the declines in the state’s textile, furniture and tobacco industries, job opportunities have expanded in the cities, thanks to growth in the financial, service and technology sectors.

“People are flocking for jobs, opportunities, mainly to our urban areas,” said Chuck McShane, the director of research at the Charlotte Chamber.

Rapid growth has continued in many neighboring states as well. In the most recent year, all but three of the 10 states with the largest population increases were from the Sunbelt.

Among the reasons: Many businesses are seeking fewer regulations and a less expensive workforce, while many Northern retirees are seeking warmer climates.

Planning ahead

In North Carolina, the growth brings more visibility and political clout. Thanks to the growing population, the state will likely gain a congressional seat after the 2020 Census, Tippett said.

But more residents also bring challenges.

Public officials must pay special attention to ensure that transportation, zoning and education systems in the large urban areas are designed to accommodate the growth, Guillory said.

McCrory agreed. Touting his 25-year plan for expanding the state’s transportation networks, the governor said: “Our transportation system and other infrastructure need to be upgraded as North Carolina continues to grow.”

Staff writer Hayley Fowler contributed to this report.

Alexander: 704-358-5060; @amesalex

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