The greater Charleston area emerged from the recent recession with one of the highest population growth rates in the nation, as people moved to Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties at a brisk pace.
New census estimates show the tri-county area was the 12th-fastest-growing metropolitan area in the nation. Berkeley and Dorchester counties made a top-100 list of fastest-growing U.S. counties.
“That was a bit of a surprise,” said Mike MacFarlane with the state’s Office of Research and Statistics. He said Charleston County was projected to have a population of 370,900 people in 2020, but the Census Bureau estimates suggest that the county could have that many residents now.
Charleston County missed being on the 100-fastest growth list by a just fraction of a percentage point.
Ben Hebert, 24, is one of the recent arrivals.
He moved from Baltimore to Charleston in early 2012, lured by what he saw as a better quality of life, and a job as a systems analyst at the Medical University of South Carolina.
“It makes it easier for me to live the life I like and pay my student loans,” said Hebert, who lives in West Ashley.
The Census Bureau estimates that between April 2010, when the decennial census results were tabulated, and July 2012, nearly 33,000 people were added to the tri-county population.
Some of the growth came from the area’s positive birth rate, but most came from people moving in.
Charleston County remains the population center of the area, with more than half the population of the tri-county area, although that could change. For every 15 additional Charleston County residents recently, nearly 18 moved in to Dorchester and Berkeley counties.
Berkeley County saw the most growth in the region, and grew faster than all but several dozen counties in the nation, adding nearly 12,000 residents in the course of 27 months.
“I’m sure it’s going to cause a lot more traffic, but it’s also going to bring a lot of convenience to us,” said Gail Richvalsky, who moved to Berkeley County with her husband Thomas in 2010 to be near their children and their families in Mount Pleasant and Summerville.
“This is a wonderful place to live,” said Richvalsky, who is lifestyle director at Del Webb at Cane Bay. “There is always something going on.”
Elaine Morgan, executive director of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber’s national ad campaign touting what the county has to offer may have contributed.
“I think we’re doing a good job of getting out how great Berkeley County is,” she said. “It’s a beautiful place with great natural resources, and once you come, you usually want to come back.”
Population growth is seen as a boon to the real estate and retail markets and all the jobs they create, but it also means more demand for wider roads and larger schools.
Goose Creek Mayor Mike Heitzler said some of Berkeley’s growth comes from the fact that homes are less expensive there than in parts of the area.
“Many are looking for the biggest bang for their money, and we have inexpensive costs of living and for housing,” he said.
Among those many were Jenn McMahon-Shaw, a stay-at-home mom with two preschoolers who moved to Hanahan from Pennsylvania in 2011 when her husband, Bob Shaw, was relocated.
“It turned out to be one of the best decisions we ever made,” she said. “We looked at the whole area and then chose Hanahan.
“It’s close to so many things, but yet it still feels like a small town,” said McMahon-Shaw. “There are plenty of parks, shopping, things for the kids to do, and the schools are good.”
From 2000 through 2010, it was Dorchester County that grew most quickly, with a whopping 42 percent population gain.
The Census Bureau estimates that Berkeley County outpaced Dorchester more recently, but Dorchester was still among the fastest-growing in the nation.
Some of that growth is coming from places nearby.
Phil Hulet and his wife Nancy moved to the new Bellwood subdivision near Summerville six months ago, after two years in Mount Pleasant. She wanted to be a little closer to her retail job and he wanted out of Mount Pleasant.
“It’s just too yuppie for me,” Hulet said. “Here, we have truck drivers and Boeing people.”
That’s Dorchester County in a nutshell. The county owes its recent growth to the same things that have been bringing people here all along.
“It has that ‘town square’ appeal. It’s affordable; I think that’s always going to explain growth,” said Phillip Ford, a resident who is the Charleston Trident Home Builders Association executive director.
“The community, the schools, low taxes and the proximity to Charleston,” said County Council Chairman Bill Hearn, who came 23 years ago for those reasons and hears newcomers talk about them repeatedly in his job as a real estate attorney. “It’s a nice place.”
The only real complaints are traffic and infrastructure, such as roads that for years did not keep up with the growth.
Bo Petersen, Brenda Rindge and Diane Knich contributed to this story. Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.