If Winston-Salem continues to grow slightly faster than the state average, the city looks almost certain to reach a population of more than 250,000 people before 2020, new estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau show.
The estimates showed that Winston-Salem’s estimated population grew from 241,805 to 244,605 between July 1, 2016, and July 1, 2017. That’s an increase of 1.16 percent, just slightly higher than the state growth rate of 1.15 percent during the same period.
The city added some 2,800 residents during the year.
Coming after a spate of years in which the city typically grew slower than the state average, the numbers tell Paul Norby, the city-county planning director, that maybe Winston-Salem is finally turning a corner.
City officials have been working to replace traditional manufacturing jobs lost in recent decades.
The new estimate “is a good sign that maybe we are getting through our economic transition and the gains are outnumbering the losses now,” Norby said. “That’s pushing both our economic growth and our population growth.”
The new estimates showed population totals increasing from 2016 to 2017 in all the municipalities that are wholly or partially in Forsyth County.
The fastest-growing place in the county was Clemmons, which grew by 1.6 percent to an estimated population of 20,420, followed closely by Lewisville, which grew 1.5 percent to 13,913.
Walkertown, Rural Hall and Tobaccoville all grew by a little less than 1.5 percent to new totals of 5,120, 3,196 and 2,663, respectively.
Kernersville remained the second-largest place in the county, but grew by only 1.1 percent to a new total of 24,386.
Tiny Bethania had an estimated 2017 population of 356, little changed from 2016.
King, which is mostly in Stokes County, also grew little and had a 2017 estimated population of 6,904.
The new estimates didn’t change the rank-order of the state’s 10 biggest cities by population. Winston-Salem remained in fifth place behind Durham, which passed the city in 2011 to move into fourth place among the state’s top cities.
Charlotte easily remained in first place with 859,035 people, and Raleigh was second with 464,758. Greensboro, growing more slowly than the state average, remained in third place with an estimated total of 290,222 people.
Fast-growing Durham reached a new total of 267,743, adding 4,600 people during the year and growing 1.8 percent.
Nine of the state’s 20 fastest-growing municipalities were in the metropolitan Raleigh area, but Raleigh itself was not one of them. Raleigh, which had been growing around 2 percent per year, grew by only 1.2 percent, just barely faster than Winston-Salem.
The further concentration of the state’s population into larger metropolitan areas was reflected in how the suburbs of the state’s largest cities continued to displace mid-sized county seats in the rankings.
Apex, near Raleigh, moved into 19th place statewide, ahead of Wilson, the county seat of Wilson County. Holly Springs, another Raleigh suburb, jumped ahead of Goldsboro and Salisbury, the county seats of Wayne and Rowan counties, respectively. Raleigh suburb Morrisville jumped into 39th place to displace Asheboro, the county seat of Randolph County.
Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines said that reaching a population of 250,000 “maybe gives you a little bit better bragging rights.”
“It rolls off the tongue more easily,” Joines said. “I think our actual numbers are turning up now. We have been planting lots of seeds and now hopefully a lot of them are coming to fruition.”
A lot of the city’s effort at transformed growth has focused on downtown, where several large apartment complexes are under construction and more planned.
For the 2013-17 period, Norby said, the new apartment construction downtown about equaled the amount of apartment construction in the rest of the county combined: 1,763 units downtown, verses 1,959 elsewhere.
The city’s downtown effort is also getting recognition elsewhere: The Wake Forest Innovation Quarter is being honored as a “Great Transformation” by the North Carolina chapter of the American Planning Association, in the 2018 Great Places in North Carolina awards this year.
The fastest-growing municipality in the Triad — a distinction that Triangle-leaning Mebane usually carries off — was Jamestown, in between High Point and Greensboro.
In fact, Jamestown’s 10 percent increase, from 3,787 to 4,167 from 2016 to 2017, was the fastest growth rate in the state.
Matthew Johnson, the Jamestown town planner, credited the opening of the Millis and Main apartment complex off Jamestown Parkway with providing most of the growth numbers, but said the town has also experienced a growth in town homes and just got its first brewery.
“Jamestown is strategically located in the Triad,” he said. “It has always been a bedroom community, but now people see that we have lots of amenities. It’s got a small-town feel where people still greet each other on the streets.”
Mebane grew plenty fast from 2016 to 2017, increasing by close to 1,000 people in one year to reach almost 15,000 people.
Aside from Jamestown, the fastest-growing Triad places were in Alamance County — perhaps evidence of what UNC Greensboro-geographer Keith Debbage calls the coming formation of a mega-region embracing both the Triad and Triangle.
But if seven of the 16 Triad places growing faster than the state average were in Alamance County, Forsyth was not far behind: six of those places were in Forsyth. Guilford County had two — Jamestown and Gibsonville — and Bermuda Run in Davie County rounded out that list.
Taking the bird’s eye view, Winston-Salem kept its 89th-place spot among U.S. cities ranked by population, just ahead of North Las Vegas, Nevada, and just behind Norfolk, Va. Greensboro stayed in 68th place, Raleigh stayed 41st and Charlotte remained 17th.
But Charlotte was the only North Carolina place on the Census Bureau’s list of cities adding the most people between 2016 and 1017. The 15,500 people who moved to Charlotte in just one year was enough to place it seventh on that list.
Internationally, Joines said, recognition for Winston-Salem remains “difficult.”
“When they think of North Carolina, the first thing they think about is Charlotte or the Research Triangle Park,” Joines said, adding that when he explains Winston-Salem to foreigners he usually starts with the Triad’s metro population of 1.7 million.
Still, the city’s effort to focus on high technology should pay off in the long run, the mayor said.
“Projects like that are a little slow in developing, but can hopefully catch on and provide significant job and population growth,” Joines said.
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