For years, people have been flocking to North Carolina from other parts of the country, especially northern cities. The affordable properties, lower cost of living, warmer weather, and access to nature have attracted new residents. These trends rapidly accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, even though the pandemic-motivated migration has slowed down, certain parts of North Carolina continue to surge in population. In certain places, North Carolina counties are among the fastest-growing communities in the entire country!
Recent census data shows that overall, between 2010 and 2020, North Carolina’s population grew by 9.5%, ahead of the United States overall population growth of 7.4%. Many of the counties grew dramatically even more recently, from 2020 to 2022! To help you learn more about these areas and what is attracting so many new residents, this article takes a look at some of the top places where people are moving to in North Carolina. Let’s learn more about the fastest-growing counties and cities in North Carolina now.
Brunswick County’s population grew 27.2%, from 108,070 residents in 2010 to 136,693 in 2020. However, since that time, Brunswick County has grown even more – between 2020 and 2022, Brunswick County grew 12%! This makes Brunswick County the fastest-growing county in North Carolina over the last three years.
This coastal part of North Carolina is the county furthest south in North Carolina. Much of its growth has occurred in areas such as Wilmington and surrounding suburbs, including Leland, Belville, and Southport. Brunswick County is part of the Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, SC-NC Metropolitan Statistical Area. As Myrtle Beach and other coastal areas are key tourist destinations, much of the county’s economy is based on tourism and vacation destinations that attract visitors to the area.
The county includes many state and local parks and protected conservation areas, including the Bald Head Island Conservancy, Bird Island Reserve, Brunswick Nature Park, Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson State Historic Site, Fort Caswell Historic District, Green Swamp Preserve, Museum of Coastal Carolina, Myrtle Head Savanna, and Zeke’s Island Reserve.
Cabarrus County’s population grew 27%, from 178,000 residents in 2010 to 226,000 in 2020 and 4.4% from 2020 to 2022. This quickly-growing county is located directly north of Charlotte, North Carolina. The county is comprised of Kannapolis, Midland, Mount Pleasant, Concord, and Harrisburg. Cabarrus County has plenty of restaurants, coffee shops, and parks, high rates of home ownership, and is rated for having a high quality of life. The county’s slogan is “America thrives here.”
Historically, Cabarrus County has had many local legends and stories. This area was the site of America’s first gold discovery. Concord is also a legendary race car driver’s hometown. In fact, the Cabarrus County city of Concord is best known for being home to NASCAR operations and the Charlotte Motor Speedway. However, even if NASCAR racing isn’t your thing, the surrounding area is a significant shopping destination. The nearby Gibson Hill area also has a beautiful, historic downtown.
Currituck County is the second-fastest growing county in North Carolina in recent years, with a population growth rate of 10.4% between 2020 and July 2022. This county is the northeasternmost county in North Carolina and is comprised of the towns of Currituck, Moyock, Coinjock, and Grandy. The area is known as the Currituck Outer Banks, which includes both shores of the Currituck Sound. Currituck’s Corolla and Carova beaches offer more than 20 miles of shoreline to enjoy shelling, running, walking, or sunbathing. Currituck County’s major industries are tourism, agriculture, manufacturing, and marine activities.
This part of North Carolina has long attracted visitors to its “outer banks.” Since the 1800s, Currituck County has enjoyed a reputation as a “sportsman’s paradise.” Even back in the 1800s and early 1900s, wealthy industrialists came to this part of North Carolina to take part in shooting and hunting clubs, to enjoy the wildlife, and escape busy city life at the seaside.
Today, Currituck County contains multiple wildlife sanctuaries and is home to the famous “Banker ponies”: descendants of Spanish mustangs that live in the wild. Visitors can visit the Currituck Maritime Museum, see the historic Currituck lighthouse, see the 21,000 Whalehead mansion on the Currituck Sound, or go on one of the many wildlife tours.
Wake County’s population grew 25%, from 906,875 residents in 2010 to 1,129,410 in 2020. That is an overall gain of 220,000 residents between 2010 and 2020. However, since 2020, Wake County takes the cake for the greatest rise in total population (not percentage increase). with the county’s population growing by 22,600 people between 2020 and 2022 (that is a growth rate of 4%).
Wake County has twelve municipalities. These are Apex, Cary, Fuquay-Varina, Garner, Holly Springs, Knightdale, Morrisville, Raleigh, Rolesville, Wake Forest, Wendell, and Zebulon. Wake County is known for having many important cultural and historical landmarks, institutions, and notable state parks. Not only is the state capital, Raleigh, in Wake County but the area is considered part of the “research triangle.” The research triangle is comprised of notable institutions and cities: Raleigh is home to North Carolina State University, the nearby Durham is home to Duke University and North Carolina Central University, and Chapel Hill is home to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Wake County is also home to multiple state parks, over 150 county parks, and numerous protected areas and sites. Key industries in the county include professional and business services; trade, transportation, and utilities; education and health services; government; and leisure and hospitality. Many of the smaller towns in Wake County boast about their own history and unique cultures, each with unique historic buildings and a cultural legacy.
Durham County’s population grew 21.4%, from 267,587 residents in 2010 to 324,833 in 2020 and 2.4% from 2020 to 2022. This fast-growing county, which contains the city of Durham, is one of the most populous counties in North Carolina. Along with Raleigh and Chapel Hill, Durham is part of North Carolina’s “research triangle” and a core part of the Durham-Chapel Hill, NC Metropolitan Area. Durham earned the nickname of the “city of medicine” due to the significance of the healthcare industry in the area and the proliferation of over 300 medical and health-related companies. In fact, the largest employer in the area is the world-renowned Duke University and Medical Center.
Historically, Durham was a major site of tobacco and other agricultural goods production. Moving into the 20th century, the Civil Rights Movement had an important role in Durham’s history. Durham had an important role in the sit-in movement and in nonviolent protests. However, it also has had a rich African-American heritage and community. Visitors to Durham today can visit many museums, sporting stadiums, or university buildings.
Franklin County’s population grew 13%, from 60,835 residents in 2010 to 71,859 in 2020. But even more recently, this county has been growing among the fastest of all counties in North Carolina! Franklin County is tied with Johnston County for the fourth-fastest growing county in North Carolina. This county saw a growth rate of 8.7% from 2020 to July 2022.
Franklin County contains the towns of Bunn, Franklinton, Louisburg, Wake Forest, and Youngsville, along with many other census-designated places, unincorporated communities, and townships. Despite having a significant role in the Revolutionary War, Franklin has historically been a rural county. Its economy has long been based on agriculture, lumber, and textiles. Franklin County also has a unique nickname of “gem capital of the world.” This name reflects a unique aspect of Franklin County’s culture and economy: mining. In fact, even today, the famous Cowee Valley attracts many miners each year who look for valuable gemstones.
This unique small town is nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the foothills of the Great Smokies. Because of that, nature lovers and those who want to enjoy time hiking or doing sports outside will appreciate Franklin’s tranquil atmosphere. However, more recently, the county has seen significant growth due to its location within the world-renowned Research Triangle Region of North Carolina.
Johnston County’s population grew 28%, from 168,878 in 2010 to 215,999 in 2020. With a growth rate of 8.7% from 2020 to July 2022, this county is tied with Franklin County for the fourth-fastest growing county in North Carolina. Johnston County is one of the biggest counties in North Carolina and is the county directly south of Raleigh. Some people attribute the fast growth to the county’s proximity to Raleigh and access to the research triangle, community feeling, and innovation within the county itself.
Johnston County contains the cities and towns of Archer Lodge, Benson, Clayton, Four Oaks, Kenly, Micro, Pen Level, Princeton, Selma, Smithfield, and Wilsons Mills. The county is home to several major bodies of water and protected areas, including the Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site, Clemmons Educational State Forest, Flower Hill Nature Preserve, Howell Woods Environmental Learning Center, and Wild Bills Western Town – Shadowhawk.
Pender County’s population grew 15%, from 52,217 in 2010 to 60,203 in 2020. Right now, Pender County is the third-fastest growing county in North Carolina and is the third coastal county that is rapidly growing in population. It saw a growth rate of 9.2% from 2020 to July 2022. Pender County is a coastal county directly above Brunswick County. It is part of the Wilmington, NC Metropolitan Statistical Area. Pender County contains six towns: Atkinson, Burgaw, St. Helena, Surf City, Topsail Beach, and Watha. It also contains seven communities.
Pender County’s communities and cities attract visitors to enjoy the many historical attractions, festivals, and coastal ecology. The area attracts tourists who visit the sandy beaches, learn about the historic battlefields and plantations such as the Revolutionary War site of Moore’s Creek Bridge, and explore the local wildlife.
Other Counties in North Carolina
In addition to these fast-growing counties, were also several counties in North Carolina with slow or negative growth. These include Tyrell County, Northampton County, Hyde County, Anson County, Washington County, and Duplin County.
Wildlife in North Carolina
Visitors or those who move to North Carolina will discover a state of diverse ecosystems and numerous animals to see in their native habitat. North Carolina can be divided into a few specific physiographic regions, each with its own unique environment: the Middle Atlantic coastal plain, the Southeastern plain, the Piedmont ecoregion, and the Blue Ridge ecoregion.
North Carolina is a place of immense ecological diversity and many different habitats. In fact, North Carolina has over 4,000 native plant species, which each have a vital part in the state’s ecosystems., and 1,100 naturalized plant species.
Some of the naturalized (nonnative, or exotic) plants in North Carolina include as chickweed, white clover, Queen Anne’s lace, and orange daylily. North Carolina is also home to the extremely poisonous plant known as “poison hemlock.”
Unique plant species endemic to regions in North Carolina include the yellow pitcher plant, purple pitcher plant, venus flytrap, pink sundew, orange milkwort, Indian blanket flowers, spoonleaf sundrew, Savannah meadowbeauty, sea ox-eye, tuberous grasspink, and numerous other unusual plants with interesting names and surprising appearances.
Endangered Species in North Carolina
North Carolina also has many endangered or threatened plant species. These include Fraser fir trees, trailing wolfsbane, venus hair fern, scale-leaf gerardia, white ramps, striped garlic, savannah onion, prairie anemone, bog bluestem, Carolina spleenwort, climbing aster, daisy-leaf moonwort, wild hyacinth, and bluebells, among others.
Many reptiles live in North Carolina’s marine and on-land habitats. Watch out for American alligators alongside other potentially-dangerous species such as snapping turtles. North Carolina is home to many types of turtles, including pond sliders, Diamondback terrapins, Eastern mud turtles, spotted turtles, Eastern musk turtles, and painted turtles. In the counties bordering the Atlantic Ocean, you may even see the loggerhead sea turtles and Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles that live in the sea and come on shore to lay their eggs.
You should also watch out for dozens of snake species, including North American racers, Eastern rat snakes, Northern cottonmouths, Eastern copperheads, brown watersnakes, Eastern worm snakes, Eastern kingsnakes, ring-necked snakes, timber rattlesnakes, scarlet snakes, red-bellied snakes, and many others.
The lizards you may find in the parks and wildlife areas of North Carolina include Eastern fence lizards, green anoles, broad-headed skinks, Southeastern five-lined skinks, and others.
Don’t forget about mammals! In the counties near the ocean, you may get lucky enough see the wondrous sight of bottlenose dolphins, manatees, and sperm whales frolicking in the ocean surf.
On land, you could see everything from an American black bear to a bobcat or marsh rabbit. North Carolina’s woodland areas, including both the coastal marshes and high mountain forests, are home to species like the white-tailed deer, black bear, raccoon, fox, and opossum.
North Carolina is also a fantastic place for birdwatching, and the beaches and surrounding marsh are great destinations to see birds from the great egret to the brown pelican or little sanderling. However, North Carolina is also a key location along the migratory path of many bird species that fly from north to south during the winter. In fact, nearly 80% of Eastern North American bird species have been spotted in North Carolina.
Some of the bird species you may see are wood ducks, yellow-bellied sapsuckers, screech owls, cardinals, red-headed woodpeckers, wild turkeys, ruffed grouse, and many others.
Did you know that North Carolina has more amphibian species than any other state in the U.S.? In fact, the state is home to 79 species of amphibians. These include the slimy salamander, gray tree frog, spotted salamander, Eastern newt, American bullfrog, pickerel frog, hellbender, spring peeper, gopher frog, greater siren, and many others.
Summary of the 8 Fastest-Growing Cities and Counties in North Carolina
Here are the 8 Fastest-Growing Cities and Counties in North Carolina:
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