America’s Fastest Growing Cities

Thomas C. Frohlich
March 28, 2014

The U.S. population rose by just 0.72% in 2013, the lowest growth rate in more than 70 years. Not only has the country become less-attractive to immigrants than in years past, with net immigration down from nearly 1.2 million as of 2001 to 843,000 last year, but also the U.S.’s domestic birth rate has dropped to a multi-decade low.

While population growth in most of the country's metro areas has slowed in recent years, in a small number of metro areas it grew a great deal. Between April 2010 and July 2013, the U.S. population rose by just 2.4%, but in 16 metro areas the population grew by 7% or more. Based on recently released U.S. Census Bureau estimates, 24/7 Wall St. examined the cities with the fastest growing populations.

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The fastest growing metro areas stood out as an exception to national trends. Last year, the population fell in more than 60% of non-metropolitan counties across the U.S., Bill Frey, senior fellow and demographer at the Brookings Institution told 24/7 Wall St. These declines, according to Frey, are attributable to a number of factors, including natural changes in population and shifting immigration trends.

According to Frey’s research, the U.S. migration rate within the country in 2013 was also close to an all-time low, set in 2011, while the rate of people specifically migrating to a different county was also close to an all-time low. For the population aged 25 to 34, who are far more likely to migrate than Americans of other ages, the migration rate has never been lower.

However, those cities with significant increases in populations have welcomed large numbers of Americans in recent years. More than 16,000 Americans moved to The Villages, Florida, in the last three years. The domestic migration drove the population of America’s fastest growing metro area from 93,420 in 2010 to 107,056 last year.

Six of the fastest-growing metro areas were among the bottom 20% best areas for unemployment rate at the end of 2013. Bismarck, North Dakota and Midland, Texas had the nation’s lowest and third-lowest unemployment rates, respectively, at just 2.4% and 3.1%. Of course, for residents in places such as The Villages, work may not be the primary appeal because many residents there are of retirement age.

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Several factors that are unique to these places drive their economies and may draw people to move there. In Odessa, Midland and Bismark, “they just happen to have an oil boom,” explained Frey. Other metro areas, like The Villages, can be “retirement communities [that] happened to be able to get some of those folks.”

In addition to vibrant economies, many Americans may be drawn to a particular area due to its affordability. All of the metro areas that are growing rapidly have relatively low costs of living. Figures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis show that the nation’s fastest growing metro areas had price levels below the U.S. as a whole in 2011. In Auburn, Alabama, the price level was 88% of national prices, among the lowest levels in the U.S. People, Frey noted, “want to move to a place where the cost of living isn't so high that you can't have a house and you can't have a decent lifestyle.”

Based on recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates, 24/7 Wall St. tracked changes in population for 381 metropolitan statistical areas from April 2010 through July 2013. Additionally, we also reviewed figures from the Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey. Data on incomes and price levels, current as of 2012 and 2011, respectively, are from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). Figures on home price change are from the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s (FHFA) House Price Index and are current as of the end of 2013. Seasonally adjusted unemployment rates for December of each year from 2010 to 2013 are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

These are America’s Fastest Growing Cities

10. Columbus, Ga.-Ala.
> Population growth: 7.35%
> Total population: 316,554 (154th highest)
> Per capita income: $39,216 (172nd highest)
> Unemployment rate: 7.8% (88th highest)

Columbus had grown significantly by 2012, after the U.S. military moved an estimated 20,000 troops and their families from Fort Knox, Kentucky, to Fort Benning, Georgia in 2011, just outside of Columbus. That year, the net domestic migration rate -- the difference between the number of Americans moving into the area and those leaving it -- was 4,935, among the biggest increases in the nation. As troops and their families moved into the area, the natural population growth between 2010 and 2013 accounted for roughly 2.3 percentage points of the total population growth of 7.35% during that time. Despite these changes, the area’s economy remained relatively weak. Personal income per capita grew at a rate of 3.26% between 2010 and 2012, slightly below the U.S. rate in that time, and the area’s unemployment rate was well above the national average of 6.7% at the end of 2013.

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9. Raleigh, N.C.
> Population growth: 7.43%
> Total population: 1,214,516 (47th highest)
> Per capita income: $42,709 (102nd highest)
> Unemployment rate: 5.6% (93rd lowest)

The population of the Raleigh, North Carolina’s second-largest metro area and its capital, grew 7.43% between 2010 and 2013. Despite the fact Raleigh had one of the largest natural population increases in the nation, migration still explains a greater share of the region’s overall population growth, accounting for a net increase of 16,692 between 2012 and 2013. Americans may be drawn to Raleigh because of its strong economy, which has weathered the recession relatively well. A strong high-tech sector, as well as the presence of large research institutions, have contributed to job growth in the area, according to a recent report from the Milken Institute,a non-partisan economic think tank. According to the institute, Raleigh ranked seventh nationwide for the relative number of high-tech industries in the area.

8. Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach, S.C.-N.C.
> Population growth: 7.49%
> Total population: 404,951 (129th highest)
> Per capita income: $31,678 (26th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 7.3% (123rd highest)

The majority of the population growth in the Myrtle Beach area did not come from natural increases -- the city had just 106 more births than deaths between 2012 and 2013, unusually low for a city with a booming population. Instead, people relocating to Myrtle Beach accounted for a larger share of growth than all but two other metro areas, The Villages and Midland, swelling its population by nearly 11,000 between 2012 and 2013. Myrtle’s popularity as a retirement community may be contributing to the growth. South Carolina does not tax Social Security benefits, and other exemptions are available to seniors. Nearly 19% of the population was over 65 years old in 2012, among the higher proportions nationwide. Like many cities with growing populations, the cost of living in Myrtle Beach was slightly lower than it was for the U.S. as a whole, making it an attractive area to retire. Home prices, also, were down 23.5% over five years through 2013, presenting opportunities for incoming retirees and second-homeowners. The housing bubble may have contributed to the area's high unemployment rate, which was still 7.3% at the end of last year, higher than the U.S.

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7. Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin, Fla.
> Population growth: 7.53%
> Total population: 253,618 (185th highest)
> Per capita income: $43,078 (94th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 4.3% (26th lowest)

The Destin metro area attracted a net total of 4,405 new residents between 2012 to 2013, due in part to its strong economic growth during the past four years. The area’s unemployment rate steadily fell from 7.8% in 2010 to 4.3% at the end of 2013, which was among the lowest rates in the nation. Other factors that could make the area more attractive to outsiders include relatively inexpensive housing prices and the low cost of living. At the end of 2013, the median home value declined by nearly 12% over the previous five years, and cost of living was below the U.S. overall. According to the Milken Institute, area job and output growth underperformed in recent years. Still, high-tech production still accounted for a high percentage of total area output in 2012, trailing just eight other metro areas.

6. Auburn-Opelika, Ala.
> Population growth: 7.58%
> Total population: 150,933 (112th lowest)
> Per capita income: $30,236 (13th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 5.0% (tied-53rd lowest)

The Auburn metro area’s economy benefits from its proximity to Atlanta and several large Universities. In fact, the metro area was identified by the Milken Institute as one of America’s best-performing small cities, with one of the fastest growing job markets between 2011 and 2012. The area's unemployment rate was only 5% at the end of last year, well below the national rate of 6.7%. The area's low cost of living may also be attracting new inhabitants. It cost far less to live in Auburn than it did in most other U.S. cities as of 2011. Unlike most of the fastest growing cities, however, personal income in Auburn was just $30,236 per capita in 2012, among the nation’s lowest.

5. Bismarck, N.D.
> Population growth: 7.82%
> Total population: 123,751 (66th lowest)
> Per capita income: $46,262 (52nd highest)
> Unemployment rate: 2.4% (the lowest)

North Dakota’s capital, Bismarck, has enticed outsiders with one of the hottest economies in the country. Driven by natural resource mining and drilling activity in the Bakken Shale, personal income grew roughly 9.5% between 2010 to 2012, among the highest rates in the nation. Also as a result, the area had the lowest unemployment rates in the U.S. in each of the last four years. The hot job market has driven homes prices up sharply. While the nation has slowly recovered from the recession, home prices in the area grew by nearly 37% over the past five years, the top in the U.S. Despite the frothy job market, the cost of living was still considerably lower than the U.S. cost. Net domestic migration into the area was 2,834, or roughly 2.3% of its total resident population in 2013. Net migration was just 339 in 2010.

4. Odessa, Texas
> Population growth: 8.93%
> Total population: 149,378 (107th lowest)
> Per capita income: $42,698 (103rd highest)
> Unemployment rate: 3.7% (11th lowest)

Odessa’s population is relatively young -- the median age was just 32 years old in 2012, among the nation’s lowest. Young people may have been drawn to Odessa for its surging economy, fueled by the recent oil boom in the region. The area's unemployment rate was just 3.7% at the end of last year, considerably lower than most American cities. Per capita personal incomes rose by 11.8% between 2010 and 2012, the second-highest growth rate in the nation. Like several of the other fastest growing cities in Texas, the housing market is also doing well. Home prices increased by nearly 15% in the last five years, among the largest increases nationwide.

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3. Austin-Round Rock, Texas
> Population growth: 9.72%
> Total population: 1,883,051 (35th highest)
> Per capita income: $42,902 (98th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 5.0% (tied-53rd lowest)

Net migration in the Austin-Round Rock area was more than 30,000 between 2012 and 2013, among the largest increases in the country. A strong economy and a vibrant community have helped make the area one of the most attractive places to move to, especially for young people. The area’s median age is just over 33 years old, among the lowest in the country. Nearly 34% of Austin area residents had a college degree or higher as of 2012, making it one of the most educated areas in the U.S., and one of the most attractive for high tech companies seeking to recruit. Companies such as IBM, AMD, and 3M Corp. all have major offices in the area. Another factor luring people to the city is its healthy job market. The unemployment rate in Austin was 5% at the end of 2013, lower than the 6.7% for the U.S. overall last December.

2. Midland, Texas
> Population growth: 10.67%
> Total population: 156,780 (125th lowest)
> Per capita income: $83,049 (the highest)
> Unemployment rate: 3.1% (3rd lowest)

With the second-lowest unemployment rate in the nation of just 3.1% at the end of last year, Midland’s population may not be growing fast enough for the needs of many employers. Even so, between 2010 and 2013, the population grew by 10.7%, most of which came from domestic migration. Midland is also at the center of an oil boom, which has attracted so many new residents that the area has had to deal with housing shortages. The population influx has also put a strain on public institutions such as schools, and likely caused, among other things, a spike in home prices. Over the last five years, home prices rose by 26.2%, the second-largest home price increase in the nation.

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1. The Villages, Fla.
> Population growth: 14.60%
> Total population: 107,056 (40th lowest)
> Per capita income: $35,032 (97th lowest)
> Unemployment rate: N/A

Florida’s largest retirement community, The Villages, was the fastest growing metropolitan area in the U.S., growing 14.6% between 2010 and 2013. The community was started in the 1980s by billionaire H. Gary Morse as a community for wealthy retirees aged 55 and older. The area was designated last year a metropolitan statistical area. Nearly 70% of the community was over 65 years old in 2010, compared to 13.7% nationally. The wealth is evident in the community. The median household income was $53,186, higher than the median among Americans over 65 years old. According to Brookings’ Frey, who was speaking to the Orlando Sun Sentinel, he is not surprised that The Villages is the fastest growing area, as seniors 65 and older represented the age group that moved the most in the U.S. last year. Many of the residents refer to the community, which is only five square miles, as “Disneyland for Adults.”

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