Population Growth May Be More Concentrated than Last Year’s Estimates Suggested

Population estimates from July 1, 2016 to July 1, 2017 indicate that growth may be more concentrated around urban centers than suggested by last year’s estimates.

Many of the top 10 fastest-growing municipalities from 2015-2016 were exurbs – largely rural areas located a greater distance from a metro center. They were thought to be possibly absorbing suburban overflow. The majority of these municipalities had previously seen slim annual population growth from 2010-2015, and eight out of ten were located less than 20 miles from a large metropolitan area. These included:

  • #1: Stem in Granville County (20% growth from 2015-2016)
  • #2: Simpson in Pitt County (12%)
  • #4: Swepsonville in Alamance County (11%)
  • #10: Fletcher in Henderson County (7%)

However, this year’s estimates do not display this pattern of growth. Only Rolesville, Wendell, and Fuquay-Varina were among the top 10 fastest-growing municipalities in 2016 and in 2017; these are all immediate suburbs of Raleigh. While eight unique counties were represented in the top 10 list last year, only five are represented this year.

In total, six of the 2016-2017 fastest-growing municipalities were located in Wake County alone: Rolesville, Wendell, Fuquay-Varina, Knightdale, Morrisville, and Apex. Clayton in Johnston County represents a seventh municipality from the Triangle metro region. Meanwhile, Jamestown (Guilford) and Mebane (Alamance) fall within the Triad metro area, and Waxhaw (Union) within the Charlotte-Concord metros.


By comparison, the state only grew by 1.1% from 2016 to 2017. Major cities such as Charlotte, Raleigh, and Winston-Salem also grew by just 1-2% last year. Even the slowest-growing municipality on this top 10 list exceeded these cities’ and the state’s growth rate by more than double.

Meanwhile, the list of municipalities with the largest single-year numeric growth is comprised entirely of North Carolina’s larger municipalities – all ten of them rank among the largest cities within their respective metropolitan statistical areas.   This also distinguishes the 2017 population estimates from the 2016 estimates.

Last year, some of the municipalities with the largest numeric growth were smaller metro suburbs, such as Fuquay-Varina in Wake County or Huntersville in Mecklenburg County. The top 10 list this year features a larger assortment of municipalities with populations over 100K – seven in 2017 compared to five in 2016. This includes Winston-Salem and Greensboro, which did not rank in the top 10 in the previous year’s estimate.


Another point of interest is Apex in Wake County, which was found on both lists this year. This means that it recorded some of the largest and fastest single-year growth in the state, after failing to make either single-year list in the previous year.

Though future estimates may slightly differ from these trends, the fact remains that North Carolina’s metro areas drive the large majority of population growth in the state.

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