The rush of new residents moving to South Carolina's coast eased last year in the Charleston and Hilton Head areas, but not in greater Myrtle Beach, new census estimates say.
Myrtle Beach was again the nation's second-fastest growing metropolitan area, with a population increase of 3.9 percent during the year ending July 1. The Charleston and Hilton Head/Beaufort areas did not make the top 20 growth list, for the first time in several years.
The prior year, Myrtle Beach, Charleston and Hilton Head were the fastest-growing metro areas on the Atlantic seaboard.
"Maybe Charleston and Beaufort are full," quipped Horry County Councilman Gary Loftus, director of the Center for Economic and Community Development at Coastal Carolina University. "We’re the sixth-largest county (in area) east of the Mississippi — we’re bigger than Rhode Island — so we can keep this up for a while."
Myrtle Beach, and more broadly Horry County, continues to rank as South Carolina’s fastest-growing area and one of the nation's fastest, thanks to people who relocate there, including Josh Kay.
Kay and his family moved from Summerville to the Myrtle Beach area about a year and a half ago. His job as president and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp. also offers him insight into the reasons behind the area’s surge.
"I really think it’s two parts. One is quality of life, and the other is cost of living," Kay said. "You’re able to buy or rent a home of significant size near 60 miles of coastline."
Kay works to lure manufacturing and technology companies to a metro area where the No. 1 industry remains tourism. It's an area with the highest concentration of waiters and waitresses in the country, accounting for almost one out of every 20 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"We’re not involved directly in tourism, but we do piggyback off that quite frequently," Kay said. "CEOs and business owners vacation here, and we reach out to them."
The population of Horry County reached 322,342 in mid-2016, according to the Census Bureau, and was rising by about 925 people each month.
One key to the Grand Strand’s growth is that it remains a lot more affordable than the Charleston and Beaufort areas. Loftus said housing developments are going on everywhere around Myrtle Beach.
That's also true in the tri-county Charleston metro area. Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties are, however, generally more pricey.
The median listing price for a Myrtle Beach home is $194,000, according to realtor.com. That compares with $509,000 for Mount Pleasant; $345,000 for Charleston; $422,250 for Hilton Head Island; $459,000 for Johns Island; and $255,990 for Summerville.
A surge in retirees moving to the Myrtle Beach area also plays a hand in its rapid growth, said Edgar Dyer, a retired dean with Coastal Carolina University. Dyer moved to the area from Columbia in 1976.
"The shot from 30,000 feet is, America is moving to the coasts, so a lot of people are retiring here because we’re on the ocean," he said.
Some of the retirees who relocated to Myrtle Beach are "half-backs" — newer residents that Loftus described as "the people who moved to Florida and found it too hot, and moved halfway back to Ohio."
Census reports have showed that, generally, people are moving out of northeastern states such as New Jersey. However, areas that are growing and thriving also attract residents from adjoining states and from within the same state, such as Kay and Dyer moving to Horry County from other parts of South Carolina.
Dyer played a role in helping the Myrtle Beach area deal with all the coming growth. He chaired a citizens group that put together Horry County’s Ride III proposal, a plan to extend its transportation sales tax for a third time to build more roads.
"We were very gratified it passed in a year where people went to the polls to basically vote against government," he said. "People here, without prodding, know the road situation could stand improvement, so it was not a hard sell." The proposal passed by more than a 2-1 margin.
Population growth comes with many demands for governments and local taxpayers. Services, from police protection to senior centers, need to expand, and there are expensive needs for more or larger roads, water and sewer lines, and schools.
"We have built almost $1 billion of roads in Horry County — our own money, from a 1 percent road tax — to handle all the tourists and the growth," said Loftus. "It’s not all retirees because Horry County schools increase by about 1,000 students a year, and every year they seem to have to build a new elementary school."
While some fast-growing areas, such as Mount Pleasant in Charleston County and Rock Hill in York County, have responded to growth pressures with moratoriums on apartment construction and other efforts to restrain growth, Loftus said Horry County residents don't seem to feel strained, at least not yet.
"We have other issues that seem more important to people, right now," he said. "One of our big discussions at the last meeting was about how many chickens to allow people to have."
The answer to that question was: two chickens, and no roosters, for residents who get a zoning board exception and don't have a homeowners association that prohibits them.
Robert Behre contributed to this report.