Charlotte jumps to 16th biggest city in U.S. But neighboring towns saw bigger surge.

Charlotte jumps to 16th biggest city in U.S. But neighboring towns saw bigger surge.
Population growth around the region (Source: US Census Bureau)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Danielle Chemtob & Gavin Off//The Charlotte Observer) - While Charlotte jumped in the rankings of the country’s largest cities, the city’s outlying towns continue to grow at a much faster pace, new estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau show.

Charlotte added 13,151 residents between 2017 and 2018, bringing its population to nearly 872,500. That makes it the 16th largest city in the country, surpassing Indianapolis.

Only four cities in the nation with a population of at least 50,000 added more people than Charlotte. They were Phoenix, San Antonio, Fort Worth and Seattle.

But the number of residents Charlotte added was the smallest in at least a decade.

The increasing cost of housing and shifting preferences of millennials are driving the migration to areas outside of the city’s borders, experts say.

“The story of a metropolitan area isn’t just the big city itself, but it’s the communities that surround it,” said Bob Coats, the Governor’s Census Bureau Liaison.


Fort Mill, S.C., continued to be the area’s fastest-growing town — a title it has held since 2014-15. It grew by 13.2% in 2017-18, twice as fast as any other town around Charlotte. It was the third fastest growing town in both North and South Carolina, with a population of 19,848.

The region’s four fastest growing towns — Fort Mill, S.C.; Waxhaw, N.C.; Tega Cay, S.C., and Clover, S.C. — are all south of Charlotte. All grew by more than 5%.

Charlotte, on the other hand, grew at a rate of just 1.5%. Raleigh’s population increased by just 0.8%, to 469,298.

As millennials age, they’re often looking for larger homes at a more affordable price point, said Chuck McShane, vice president of business analytics and data for the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance. But that’s become more difficult to find.

The average sales price of a house in the region in April was $304,996, according to the Charlotte Regional Realtor Association, a jump of more than 4% from the previous year.

The price increase is leading people to move further outside of the city’s limits.

“(Millennials) may not be as attracted to an apartment in the South End as they would be to a home in Matthews or somewhere out in another county,” McShane said.

The population shift to outlying towns, some of which are across the state line, presents a unique challenge for local governments as they plan for that growth. Charlotte is in the midst of writing a 2040 comprehensive plan, which could cover everything from updating development rules to transportation and infrastructure.

“We have to think beyond city and county borders,” McShane said.

Here are some other takeaways from the latest Census estimates.

  • Several towns northeast of Charlotte — Kannapolis, Concord and Harrisburg — are growing at a rate of around 2%. 
  • Waxhaw — the region’s second fastest growing town and the North Carolina’s 10th fastest — grew by 6.4%, data show. The Union County town now has 16,100 residents.
  • The growth Charlotte saw was its weakest since at least 2010, when the city’s population increased by more than 16,300. McShane said that’s partially due to a national trend of people moving less.
  • The region’s growth has also slowed overall. The 30 city and towns in the Charlotte area added 29,100 people from 2017 to 2018 — the smallest amount since 2011-12.