The South was home to 10 of the nation’s 15 fastest-growing large cities this decade, a list that’s dominated by Texas but also includes one municipality in South Carolina.
It’s the Town of Mount Pleasant, population 91,684, where some long-time residents dislike the idea that the sleepy fishing village of the 1960s has become a large city.
Just-released census estimates for towns and cities include some surprises in South Carolina, including a large population decline in the capital city, Columbia.
In the Charleston metro area, the place that saw the most rapid population growth through July 2019 was Hanahan.
In Mount Pleasant, residents can take some solace that the town was not among the nation's fastest-growing cities between 2018 and 2019. The town did gain more residents than the state's largest city, Charleston, but Mount Pleasant wasn't even among South Carolina's top 10 for growth for the 12 months ending July 1, 2019.
So, which towns and cities grew most rapidly in the Palmetto State?
Among those with at least 20,000 residents, the ones seeing the most rapid population growth were Fort Mill, which has become a bedroom community of Charlotte, and Bluffton, where there's been substantial development near Hilton Head Island.
Both saw their populations grow more than 11 percent in a single year.
Next came cities located on the outskirts of even larger cities. Simpsonville and Greer, near Greenville, were in the top 5 for growth in South Carolina. Hanahan, in the Charleston area, was the fourth fastest-growing in the state among the 26 towns and cities of at least 20,000 residents.
“It’s pretty significant and we still have growth going on," said Mike Cochran, Hanahan city manager. “We are closing in on being built out."
“We have maybe a couple hundred more homes to go," he said.
Since the 2010 Census, Hanahan's population has increased by nearly 50 percent. That's a larger increase than Mount Pleasant, where the population has grown 35 percent since 2010.
But Mount Pleasant is ranked nationally among the fastest-growing because it's considered a large city, with at least 50,000 residents.
Fort Mill and Bluffton have both seen their populations more than double since 2010.
South Carolina's population growth has been driven by people moving in from other states, and they have primarily been moving to urban coastal areas — Charleston, Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach — and to Upstate towns and cities in and around Greenville or near Charlotte.
Growing populations are better than shrinking ones, for towns and cities, but when growth comes too rapidly it can overwhelm roads, school and public services. Mount Pleasant is among fast-growing places that have attempted to apply the brakes by imposing limits on building permits, temporarily banning new apartments, and dramatically increasing fees paid by developers.
Mayor Will Haynie did not respond to several requests for comment.
In Hanahan, Cochran said the city hasn't faced the challenges of growth that Mount Pleasant has experienced, such a traffic-jammed roads. He said that's partly because people have more ways to get around in Hanahan.
"We don’t have the large shopping centers that tend to draw lots of traffic," he said. “Right now, our biggest strain is probably on recreation, because we don’t have enough fields."
To address that problem, the city is designing a 53-acre recreation complex, Cochran said.
Conway, Myrtle Beach, Greenville, Lexington and North Charleston rounded out South Carolina's top-growth list for 2019, followed by Mount Pleasant, Goose Creek, Summerville, North Augusta and Charleston.
Many of South Carolina's towns and cities, 113 out of of 271, lost population between 2018 and 2019, but none more so than Columbia, according to the Census Bureau.
The state's capital city lost an estimated 1,096 residents. That's a greater loss of population than in the remaining 112 population-losing towns and cities combined, and was the fourth consecutive year of population decline there.
Columbia Councilman Howard Duvall Jr. said part of the population decline is likely related to the closure of the Allen Benedict Court housing project, where hundreds of people lived. The complex was evacuated after two residents were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning in January 2019.
“I’m not discouraged by having a slight decline in population," said Duvall. “I hope we’re ahead of Charleston."
They are not.
According to census estimates, Columbia's population declined from 134,129 in the summer of 2016 — the year Charleston overtook Columbia as the state's largest city — to 131,674 in 2019.
Columbia's population now is about what it was in 2012, while Charleston has grown to a population of 137,566.
“I don’t think it’s important to be the No. 1 city, but it’s important for our pride," said Duvall. "We hope to reclaim that with the 2020 Census."
The 2020 Census, which is under way, will replace years of population estimates with actual numbers for the first time since 2010.
The counting, which is largely being done by mail and through online submissions of census forms, will redistribute political representation and funding to communities throughout the county.
In South Carolina, rural areas have been losing population or growing slowly compared to urban areas, and the 2020 Census could result in a significant drop in population-based state funding that's only adjusted every 10 years.