Special Report

The Fastest Growing Cities in America

While the nation’s population grew last year by just 0.1%, many of the largest metropolitan cities are booming. Based on newly released data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 24/7 Wall St. identified the 10 largest cities with the fastest growing populations.

Read: The Fastest Growing Cities in America

Population grew between 2.5% and 5% in America’s biggest cities. Many of these cities are located in the southeastern part of the United States, with three of the 10 biggest increases taking place in Texas.

Unemployment rates were all across the board in these regions. In 2010, some of these cities, including Austin and Plano, Tex., and Raleigh, N.C., had jobless rates that were among the 15 lowest in the country for large cities. Others, including Washington, D.C.; Atlanta, Ga.; and Tampa, Fla., were on the other end of the spectrum, with unemployment rates of 10% or more.

While unemployment varied in these cities, the number of people employed in these regions increased across the board. Between 2010 and 2011, the number of people employed in nonfarm jobs increased in the U.S. by 1.4%. In the majority of the metropolitan divisions in which these cities are located, employment increased by at least that much. Charlotte added 2.4% to its labor force and Austin grew by 2.8%. However, in El Paso, Tex., and New Orleans employment grew at less than the national rate, meaning that the population grew in spite of a stagnant job market.

Looking at GDP growth, many of the local economies were booming before the new residents showed up. Half were in the top third among large metropolitan areas, and three were in the top 15. Charlotte and Austin — both among the top 10 — had the second- and third-highest GDP growth in the U.S. between 2009 and 2010.

As more people moved into these markets, demand for housing increased. According to data provided by Fiserv, while home prices fell in nearly every major metropolitan region, it fell by the smallest margins among those on our list. In the case of Austin and Plano, Tex., home prices actually increased.

Also Read: The 10 Best Cities for Millenials

In order to identify the fastest growing American cities, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the U.S. Census Bureau’s population change data for cities with populations of 250,000 or more. Average unemployment rates for these cities for 2010 and 2011 population change data came from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Data for Metropolitan Statistical Areas and Metropolitan Statistical Divisions was used to represent local economic data for unincorporated cities on the list. Data for the cities’ corresponding MSAs include 2010 and 2011 unemployment rates from the BLS, 2009 to 2010 GDP data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and 2010 and 2011 home price data from Fiserv.

These are the fastest growing cities in America.

10. El Paso, Tex.
> Change in population: 2.5%
> Population 7/11: 665,568
> Population 4/10: 649,152
> Average annual city unemployment (2011): 9.5%
> Increase in jobs (2010 to 2011): 2,700 (0.97%)

El Paso’s population increased by 16,416 over just 15 months, from April 2010 to July 2011. Job opportunities in the city and its surrounding area also grew at that time, and the city’s unemployment rate was down 0.7% percentage points year-over-year as of May 2012. While the metro region only added a few thousand jobs, the majority came in the leisure and hospitality industries. Perhaps inspired by these developments, the El Paso City Council has recently set forth plans to build a baseball stadium using tax revenue generated by the city’s hospitality industry.

9. Charlotte, N.C.
> Change in population: 2.7%
> Population 7/11: 751,087
> Population 4/10: 731,424
> Average annual city unemployment (2011): 9.2%
> Increase in jobs (2010 to 2011): 19,200 (2.38%)

From 2010 to 2011, Charlotte’s average annual unemployment rate fell from 9.7% to 9.2%. This was in part due to an increase in professional and business services jobs, which accounted for around 8,500 of the 19,200 jobs the Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill MSA added between 2010 and 2011. Charlotte also seemed to have enjoyed a construction boom in recent years. In 2010, 12% of buildings were less than five years old, one of the highest figures among large metro regions in the United States. After a 2.4% price decline from fourth quarter 2010 to fourth quarter 2011 within Charlotte’s MSA, home sales volumes in the area have rebounded strongly — up 14% from June 2011 to June 2012.

8. Washington, D.C.
> Change in population: 2.7%
> Population 7/11: 617,996
> Population 4/10: 601,723
> Average annual city unemployment (2011): 10.2%
> Increase in jobs (2010 to 2011): 28,800 (1.2%)

The Washington, D.C., area added more than 16,000 people between April 2010 and July 2011. However, between 2010 and 2011, the region added 28,800 jobs, a 1.2% increase. As of 2010, it had the wealthiest major metropolitan region in the country, with a median annual household income of $84,523. More than half of households in the region earn at least $100,000 a year, the largest proportion in the country among large MSAs. While home prices fell in most major U.S. cities between the end of 2010 and the end of 2011, Washington’s declined just 0.7%, one of the smallest drops in the country during that time.

7. Atlanta, Ga.
> Change in population: 3%
> Population 7/11: 432,427
> Population 4/10: 420,005
> Average annual city unemployment (2011): 12.1%
> Increase in jobs (2010 to 2011): 28,900 (1.27%)

Though average annual unemployment was extremely high in Atlanta in 2011 at 12.1%, it was actually a significant improvement over 2010 unemployment rate of 12.7%. Additionally, Atlanta’s MSA has experienced significant job growth, adding 28,900 positions between 2010 and 2011. Some 15,400 of these net positions created were in the professional and business services fields. Companies, in these and other fields, that have announced plans to add jobs in the Atlanta area include AT&T (NYSE: T), CBS (NYSE: CBS) and financial technology firm Q2ebanking. The city has also attracted skilled laborers from abroad, with 5,108 individuals receiving H1B visas to work in Atlanta in 2011.

Also Read: The States With The Fastest Growing Economies

6. Tampa, Fla.
> Change in population: 3.1%
> Population 7/11: 346,037
> Population 4/10: 335,709
> Average annual city unemployment (2011): 11.2%
> Increase in jobs (2010 to 2011): 20,300 (1.8%)

While at the top of the list for its increase in population, Tampa is at the bottom of cities for median income. Of the 68 MSAs included in the study, the Tampa metropolitan area has the fourth-lowest median annual household income of $43,547. It has the second-highest proportion (15.8%) of households with annual income between $35,000 and $49,999. Driving Tampa’s increase in jobs are the leisure and hospitality industries, with a 2.5% increase between 2010 and 2011. One Touch Direct alone has pledged to create 700 jobs in the area. This increase in jobs helped Tampa have the second-largest decrease in unemployment between May 2011 and 2012.

5. Raleigh, N.C.
> Change in population: 3.1%
> Population 7/11: 416,468
> Population 4/10: 403,903
> Average annual city unemployment (2011): 7.6%
> Increase in jobs (2010 to 2011): 10,500 (2.07%)

Raleigh’s economy suffered through a tough year in 2009, as the Raleigh-Cary MSA’s real gross domestic product declined 0.93%. However, Raleigh’s economy recovered, growing at a robust 5.2% pace in 2010. In 2011, the Raleigh MSA added 10,500 jobs over the year with 3,200 of these coming from the trade, transportation and utilities industries, which cumulatively make up what is as of May the city’s largest employers. Much of the Raleigh area’s housing is new — 14.6% of all housing units were created between 2005 and 2010. In 2011, Meritage Homes (NYSE: MTH), the United States’ ninth-largest homebuilder, began constructing homes in the region.

4. Denver, Colo.
> Change in population: 3.3%
> Population 7/11: 619,968
> Population 4/10: 600,008
> Average annual city unemployment (2011): 9.1%
> Increase in jobs (2010 to 2011): 18,100 (1.5%)

Denver’s population increased by 19,960 between 2010 and 2011, and it has outpaced the national growth rate for the past eight decades. According to the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation, much of this population growth is from the in-migration of educated people. In Denver, 40.2% of residents 25 years of age and older have bachelor’s degree or higher.

3. Plano, Tex.
> Change in population: 3.8%
> Population 7/11: 269,776
> Population 4/10: 259,841
> Average annual city unemployment (2011): 6.9%
> Increase in jobs (2010 to 2011): 41,700 (2.1%)

Plano’s population increased by almost 10,000 between April 2010 and July 2011. Much of this may have been due to the availability of jobs, as 41,700 net jobs were added in 2011 within the Dallas-Plano-Irving metropolitan division, making up more than two-thirds of those added in the MSA. Plano’s government actively recruits multinational enterprises to move their headquarters or other major facilities to the city, and has succeeded in attracting Pizza Hut, JCPenney (NYSE: JCP), Atmos Energy (NYSE: ATO), Rent-A-Center (NASDAQ: RCII) and other corporations to do so. Another facet of the city’s appeal may be its safety record. In 2011, the city had a violent crime rate of just 1.6 incidents per year per 100,000 residents. This was the lowest figure of any of the 68 cities on our list.

2. Austin, Tex.
> Change in population: 3.8%
> Population 7/11: 820,611
> Population 4/10: 790,390
> Average annual city unemployment (2011): 6.2%
> Increase in jobs (2010 to 2011): 21,900 (2.8%)

Austin added 30,221 people between April 2010 and June 2011, a rate of more than 2,000 per month. Alongside this population growth, the Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos MSA has experienced tremendous economic growth. Real GDP rose 6.97% from 2009 to 2010, while the area added 21,900 jobs in 2011, helping to lower the unemployment rate to 6.2% that year. In 2010, 15% of housing units in the metropolitan area were five years old or less, the highest such proportion among all metropolitan areas reviewed by 24/7 Wall St. While many regions had weak housing markets in 2011, Austin housing prices actually rose in the fourth quarter of 2011 versus the last quarter of the previous year, reaching a median price of $188,000.

Also Read: The 10 States With The Cheapest Gas

1. New Orleans, La.
> Change in population: 4.9%
> Population 7/11: 360,740
> Population 4/10: 343,829
> Average annual city unemployment (2011): 8.8%
> Increase in jobs (2010 to 2011): 6,900 (1.3%)

Continuing to rebound from the effects of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans had the highest population growth in the country for any city over the size of 100,000. The city’s rate of population growth (4.9%) is more than six times the national average of 0.73%. The Big Easy’s MSA (New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner) had significant growth in information jobs and education and health services, at 7% and 3.6% respectively. Despite this growth, the city’s population is at just 80% of pre-Katrina levels.

Michael A. Sauter, Alexander E. M. Hess and Elisabeth Uible

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