South Carolina was home to all three of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas on the Atlantic Coast in 2013, new Census Bureau estimates say.
Greater Charleston is the largest of those metro areas, and it has accounted for nearly a third of the state's population growth since the last census in 2010.
Each month, roughly 1,230 more people call the Charleston metro area home; living in Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties.
Those population gains gave the tri-county area the third-highest growth rate anywhere on the Atlantic Coast, according to a Census Bureau report released Thursday morning. The metro areas that include Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head, were ranked first and second for growth between June 2012 and June 2013.
"It's almost a no-brainer forecast that we are going to be more congested, and growing more," said College of Charleston Professor of Economics Frank Hefner. "I've been saying that for 20 years."
Pretty quickly, all that growth adds up. The tri-county region has lately been adding about 15,000 more people each year. And those people need homes, schools, roads, jobs, health care, and maybe somewhere to park at the beach.
Good news, bad news
Since 2000, the area's population has grown by more than 163,000.
Growth is great news for housing developers and construction workers, more work for road-builders - think of all the widening projects - and it brings more people who may shop at local stores.
"It's good news for homebuilders, because we've got people moving here, buying houses, building houses, and remodeling houses," said Philip Ford, executive vice president of the Charleston Trident Homebuilders Association. "Think about all the people who help build those houses, and their families."
The increasing population also means more demand for government services, from roads and sewer lines to police and schools. And if the growth isn't paying for itself, taxes may have to rise, as is now under discussion in Mount Pleasant.
"Now, we're actually getting gridlock sometimes, and at some point we'll reach capacity constraints," Hefner said. "You have to grow the infrastructure and provide the services, of course, and we're playing catch-up."
So far, area residents have been accommodating, even agreeing in some counties to pay higher sales taxes to build schools and widen roads, and to protect some green space from development. Maybe that's because so many current residents moved to the area themselves.
Will Maiden, 27, first moved to the area three years ago after graduating from culinary school and lives in Mount Pleasant.
He's from Miami, so his perspective on traffic is a bit different from that of longtime residents.
"Compared to Miami, traffic here is a breeze," he said.
All the growth has spurred conflicts about development, as communities become more crowded. James Island, Johns Island, Mount Pleasant, Charleston and other areas have seen resident opposition to new multi-family developments, and on Isle of Palms, there have been proposals to restrict parking near the beach because of the growing crowds.
Hefner said the best situation would be some growth, but not too much.
"Of course, you can't plan for that," he said. "The congestion costs are going to increase, but on the other hand, the growth has provided lots of opportunities."
Spurred by people moving to the coastal communities, South Carolina's population growth rate was the 11th-highest in the nation last year among the 50 states plus the District of Columbia. The Palmetto State gained an estimated 51,422 residents, the Census Bureau estimated, with most of the growth due to people moving from other states and nations.
The Charleston metropolitan area was among just 25 of the 381 metropolitan statistical areas nationwide that saw population growth of 2 percent or more in a single year.
"It seems like people just come to visit family, or vacation, and then they decide to live here," Ford said. "I can't see that changing."
Reach David Slade at 937-5552
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