State’s most charming city might become largest, too

New census estimates show the Charleston area leading population growth in S.C.

Some 239 years after South Carolina lawmakers decided to move the capital from Charleston to Columbia, and more than 65 years after the Capital City’s population eclipsed the Holy City’s, the title of the state’s largest city seems certain to switch back soon.

U.S. Census estimates released Wednesday showed Charleston — as well as Mount Pleasant and North Charleston — among the state’s fastest-growing cities.

Columbia, not so much, and Charleston’s population might have already eclipsed it — even with the Sergeant Jasper emptied out.

The 2015 population estimates — to be released at this time next year — could place Charleston as South Carolina’s largest city for the first time since World War II.

During 2014, Charleston picked up 2,322 new residents for a total of 130,113. The city of Columbia added only 155, for a total of 132,067, according to the new estimates.

These recent numbers shouldn’t shock anyone, said Tracy Burkett, chair of the College of Charleston’s Department of Sociology.

“This trend didn’t start yesterday,” she said. “Columbia should not be surprised.”

Burkett said taking the title of the state’s largest city goes beyond bragging rights. “It matters because numbers matter,” she said, adding it will increase the city’s clout in gaining funding, political representation and recognition.

In South Carolina, a city’s population change reflects not only its economic health but also its recent annexations. While the city of Greenville remains in the heart of South Carolina’s largest county and one of its fastest-growing metro areas, its city limits have changed little. As a result, its municipal population has not boomed as much, though it did add 1,035 new residents during the past year. In contrast, the Lowcountry’s biggest cities all have annexed areas where new homes are being built.

While Charleston had almost 10 times as many residents as Columbia in 1830, Columbia posted double-digit percentage gains throughout most of the 20th century census years and was the state’s first city to crack the six-digit mark.

Overall, the state had 60,553 more people moving here or being born here than moved out or died in 2014, the Census Bureau estimates. The Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester area accounted for more than 25 percent of that gain.

Mount Pleasant grew the fastest, adding 3,061 new residents, which gave the town 77,796 residents as of July. It added more residents than all of Spartanburg County. Meanwhile, North Charleston gained 2,650 — even more than its southern neighbor — for a population estimated at 106,749.

Moncks Corner and Summerville also were among South Carolina’s fastest-growing places, increasing their populations by 3.7 percent and 3.2 percent, accordingly, from 2013 to 2014.

Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties each saw their populations grow by 2.2 percent over the 12 months ending July 1, 2014, the bureau said — an average of almost 43 new residents per day.

That amounts to 15,608 more residents across the three counties, which had nearly 728,000 residents in July.

And while Charleston may not regain its former status as South Carolina’s capital — and will have to continue to grapple with more traffic and sprawl — “the positive side is it’s bringing in real cool people to Charleston,” Burkett said.

David Slade contributed to this report. Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.