Research & Data Wednesday, July 15, 2020

The Charlotte Region – Suburbanizing, Densifying, Diversifying

You don’t need statistics to know that the Charlotte Region is growing. Just take a ride down on the LYNX Blue Line and notice the apartment buildings shooting up or take a drive across the Mecklenburg County line in almost any direction and see crews grading former farmland into suburban subdivisions.

Recently released data from the US Census Bureau show that the Charlotte Region reached a milestone in 2019, surpassing 3 million in population. Those top line numbers are impressive, but they don’t tell the whole story. Here are three key trends the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance Economic Research team is seeing in our analysis of the data. 


  1. 1. Suburbanizing … and Densifying

The Charlotte Region continued to attract newcomers through the 2010s. That’s been a constant for decades. What has changed is where these newcomers choose to live within the region. The region grew by nearly 400,000 since 2010, and 72% of that growth was from people moving to the region and 28% was from births. In 2010, nearly 70% of newcomers landed in Mecklenburg County, but in 2019, only 38% did, with most newcomers landing in a surrounding county. Lancaster (27.3%), York (23.9%) and Cabarrus (21.2%) counties all grew faster than Mecklenburg (20.3%) over the decade.

While urban growth did slow slightly in Charlotte, it remained strong compared to larger metros, many of which saw population loss in the later part of the decade. In fact, the City of Charlotte surpassed San Francisco to become the 15th largest city in the United States in 2019. And while that comparison is not exactly apples-to-apples given Charlotte’s much larger landmass, much of the growth within Charlotte was due to urban densification. Thanks to the LYNX Blue line, opening in 2007 and its extension to UNC Charlotte, which opened 10 years later, Charlotte underwent an apartment-building boom, with nearly 60,000 units and 1,700 new buildings approved in the metro area over the decade.   

Also, while counties further away from the urban core saw slower growth rates, overall population growth in these exurban counties recovered during the 2010s. While counties not bordering Mecklenburg were losing population in the early part of the decade, they recovered by around 2014 and saw positive net growth through 2019. 


Apartment Permits, Charlotte MSA 2010-2019

  Apartment Units Approved Apartment Structures Approved
2019 8,238 228
2018 9,640 277 
2017 7,508 188 
2016 6,428 164
2015 6,876 236 
2014 7,100 238
2013 5,057 182 
2012 5,364  173
2011 1,362  68
2010 698  37
   58,271 1,741 

Source: US Census Bureau, 2010-2019

2. Diversifying

The Charlotte Region’s population also became increasingly diverse during the 2010s. This was a product of both domestic and international migration. As early as 2000, the Brookings Institution highlighted the Charlotte metro as an “Emerging Immigrant Gateway,” for the large numbers of Hispanic and Latino immigrants attracted to the region. Continued Hispanic immigration was joined in the 2010s by increasing immigration from Asian countries, particularly India. Hispanic and Latino population growth surpassed 36% during the decade, double the region’s overall 15% growth. After a generation of immigration to the region, the Hispanic population in the region is now majority U.S.-born.  Asian and Asian American population surpassed 73% during the decade.

Migration from within the US has also increased the diversity of the Charlotte Region. The African American population in the region grew by 26%, driven largely by migration from larger northeastern cities as part of what demographers have termed a Reverse Great Migration to the South.

The non-Hispanic white share of the regional population fell from 66% to 62% during the decade and fell below 50% in the core urban county of Mecklenburg for the first time.


Percentage of Population by Race/Ethnicity, Charlotte Region 2010-2019

  2010 2019
White, non-Hispanic 66.4% 62.2%
Black or African American 20.5% 22.4%
Hispanic of Any Race 8.6% 10.1%
Asian or Asian American 2.6% 4.0%
Two or More Races 1.5% 2.2%


  1. 3. Slower Growth Ahead?

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis are likely to slow population growth as people move less due to economic constraints. International immigration is also likely to slow due to travel restrictions and other policy changes. While the Charlotte Region has seen some temporary migration from denser northeastern cities during the intense parts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the broader economic slowdown will take a toll on broader migration. Birth rates in the Region are also down, part of a nationwide trend. While births accounted for more than 40% of regional growth in 2011, that fell to just over 20% by 2019. As members of the millennial generation that drove much of the urban growth age into their 30s, suburban growth is likely to continue.


Posted by: Chuck McShane, Senior Vice President, Economic Research @ 12:00:00 am


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