Think Charlotte's crowded now? We're adding 109 people every day.

Published: Oct. 26, 2016 at 8:47 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, NC (Ely Portillo/The Charlotte Observer) - The demographics behind growth in the Charlotte region are driving much of the region's commercial real estate boom, and that growth isn't showing any signs of diminishing.

From April 2010 to July 2015, Charlotte, Mecklenburg and the surrounding counties have added an average of 109 people every day (counting births and people moving to the region). Rebecca Tippett, director of Carolina Demography at UNC-Chapel Hill, said the region added about 34,448 new residents last year alone, according to the American Community Survey (About 123,000 new residents moved in and 89,000 moved out during that time).

"Charlotte is really a post-college destination," said Tippett, speaking at a symposium on the region's population and demographics Wednesday. "The presence of jobs in the region pulls people."

Mecklenburg, along with Wake County, is one of two counties in North Carolina whose population tops 1 million. It's a big change from just 50 years ago, when Charlotte's population barely topped 200,000.

The new migrants tend to be younger and more educated than the county's population as a whole: 20 percent of Charlotte's population is 18 to 34 years old, compared to 45 percent of the people migrating here. And 47 percent of the people moving here have a bachelor's degree or more.

"We are net importing talent," said Tippett.

In 2014, a total of 15,888 net new migrants settled in Mecklenburg County. That's after taking into account the 74,706 people who moved in and the 58,818 who moved out of the county.

That kind of population growth is what developers are counting on to fill new the nearly 25,000 apartments under construction or development in the Charlotte region, and bring jobs to fill the 2.3 million or so square feet of office space developers are building.

Tippett said the Charlotte region's annual growth rate of 9.4 percent for the past five years makes it the ninth-fastest growing region (Austin is the fastest-growing, with 16.6 annual growth).

While the region's population growth encourages development, it also raises questions, as some at Wednesday's symposium pointed out. How will the region build enough infrastructure to handle the ongoing influx of new residents? Will we build mass transit and more trains, or will we expand roads – and add more tolls? And will all those millennial renters moving to Charlotte stay here, or will they ultimately move to surrounding counties, or back to where they're from?

"Are we treating a large geographic part of our community as a nomadic zone where people come for a little while and they leave?" asked Pat Mumford, director of Neighborhood and Business Services for the city of Charlotte. He was referring to the growth of corridors with thousands of new apartments, such as South End along the light rail line.

Another big question: Will the current generation of renters filling up Charlotte's inner neighborhoods eventually want to move, en masse, farther out to suburbs and surrounding counties?

"The millennials are not going to be young for long. There's going to be a demand, I think, for suburban lifestyles coming along in a decade or more," said Chuck McShane, director of research for the Charlotte Chamber.