2010 census findings: Charlotte metro grows at record pace

As the 2010 Census of Population results have been rolling out, demographer, Dr. William Frey at the Brookings Institution, has been analyzing the new numbers and providing informative and sometimes surprising interpretations of America’s population changes during the 21st century.

Last month, USA Today contained a short discussion of Frey’s assessment of metropolitan population change over the last decade.  Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) are the Census Bureau’s framework for defining urban regions across the U.S.  They encompass urban core cities and counties and the surrounding jurisdictions with strong employment and community links to the core.  Dr. Frey compiled a list of the 51 MSAs with populations over one million residents.  His analyses showed that population growth in these largest urban regions in the 21st century declined from the earlier two decades.  In aggregate terms, on average, large metros grew by 12.6 percent in the 1980’s, ramped up to 14.6 percent in the 1990’s, and slowed to 10.6 percent during the last decade.  Not unexpectedly, metro regions in the South and West grew much faster than their peers in the Northeast and Midwest U.S. 

What does this mean in practical terms?  Simply stated, our nation’s largest metropolitan regions, also the most powerful drivers of economic growth, have not been immune from the effects of the great recession.  This is especially relevant if one remembers that the economic slowdown was focused in the centers of business and entrepreneurship, which are these same large urban-suburban agglomerations.

As a geographer and Charlottean, my interest in Frey’s analysis was drawn to how our metro region, the six-county Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord NC-SC MSA, fits into the national trends and aligns with peer metro areas.

A Charlotte-oriented restructuring of the findings offers an interesting context on the metro growth story (Table 1).  First, despite the slowing national MSA growth, the Charlotte region’s population increase has picked up speed during this century.  In the last decade of the 20th century, the Charlotte MSA grew a robust 29.8 percent.  But, between 2000-2010, our population growth jumped to 32.1 percent.

Table 1. Large Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) Population Growth Trends


Source: US Census 2010. 

The 2010 Census count found that our region ranks as the fourth fastest growing large urban region in the U.S.  The only metros growing more rapidly were Las Vegas- Paradise, NV (41.8 percent), Raleigh-Cary, NC (41.8 percent), and Austin-Round Rock, TX (37.3 percent).

Over the past decade, the Charlotte region outpaced growth rates in Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA; Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ; Denver-Aurora, CO; and Orlando-Kissimmee, FL, all metros which had grown faster than ours during the preceding census period.  The list of eclipsed regions is notable in that it includes traditional regional competitors, like Atlanta and Orlando, as well as, nationally prominent regions like Denver and Phoenix.

While the Las Vegas, Raleigh, and Austin metros were growing faster than Charlotte in the earlier decade, notably, all three of these fastest growing metros experienced a decline in their pace of growth from 2000-2010.

Since the start of the great recession, the Charlotte region has suffered high unemployment, corporate restructuring, and declining real estate values, which, in turn, has shaken public confidence in the future of the region.  The 2010 Census results are, however, a stark reminder that despite our present economic challenges, the Charlotte region remains an attractive destination for immigrants from across the U.S. and beyond our borders.  Indeed, as colleagues Bill Graves and Heather Smith articulated in their recent book, Charlotte, NC: The Global Evolution of a New South City, Charlotte’s rising prominence as an emerging globalizing city is well underway.

 -- Owen Furuseth

To read a review on this site of Charlotte, NC: The Global Evolution of a New South City

Photograph by Nancy Pierce