Special Report

America's Fastest Growing Cities


The U.S. population grew by 0.79% over the last year, just slightly faster than the previous year’s growth rate but still among the slowest rates in decades. While the nationwide growth was slow, population increased much more rapidly in other parts of the country.

Over the past five years, many of these same cities have seen even more significant increases in population. In 26 metropolitan areas, populations grew by more than 10% since 2010 compared to the 3.9% national growth over that period. The population of The Villages, Florida, grew by more than that of any other metro area, increasing by 26.1% over the last five years.

While natural growth — births minus deaths — is certainly a factor in changing regional populations, migration is almost always the largest driver of population change. In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., William Frey, senior demographer at public policy think tank Brookings Institution, explained that the high population growth rates in this group of cities are indicative of a longer-term trend in U.S. migration. Specifically, movement from the central and northern parts of the country to the South, Southwest, and the Southeast, have been driving U.S. population changes in the past few decades.

Frey explained that this trend slowed somewhat during the recession, as many of the metropolitan areas with the fastest growing populations struggled with severe housing market and economic crises. “Some of these places in the sun belt — especially Phoenix and Las Vegas — took real big hits back from the end of the recession on until just a few years ago,” Frey said. As the economy has recovered, population growth in some of these cities has picked up again.

Click here to see America’s fastest growing cities.

Click here to see America’s fastest shrinking cities.

The importance of a healthy regional economy to strong population growth is evidenced by the job markets in most of these metropolitan areas. The unemployment rate in 14 of the 20 fastest growing metro areas is lower than the national jobless rate of 5.0%. These robust economies attract young workers, who move with their families from other parts of the country. For this reason, many of the cities with the greatest population growths tend to have very young populations, Frey said.

Not every rapidly-growing city has an extremely young population. In fact, a number of these locations are retirement destinations. As members of the baby boomer generation continue to retire, they are moving to these places in droves. “..normally you would say that migration is a young person’s game, but some of these Florida areas may be attracting some baby boomers as well,” Frey noted. In four of the fastest growing metropolitan areas, more than 20% of the population is a senior citizen, compared to the national share of 14.5%. In the Villages, more than half of the population is 65 or older.

Whether the high population growth rates in these cities are sustained depends in many cases on the state of the global energy market. Several of the fastest growing metropolitan areas are in Texas and North Dakota — states that have benefitted from oil booms. However, after the sharp decline in oil prices, some speculate that North Dakota’s economy may begin to falter. Frey added that the depressed oil market may also affect the population growth rate of Houston, by far the largest city on this list.

Based on recently released U.S. Census Bureau estimates, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed population changes in the 381 U.S. metropolitan statistical areas from July 2010 through July 2015. Poverty rates, educational attainment rates, and workforce composition came from the Census Bureau’s 2014 American Community Survey. Data on incomes and price levels as of 2014 and 2010, respectively, are from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Unemployment rates are for January 2016, and annual unemployment rates for 2010 and 2014 are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Metro area GDP per capita income are from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and are in 2010 dollars.

These are America’s fastest growing cities.

20. Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, FL
> Population growth (2010-2015):
> Total population: 357,305
> Per capita income: $73,869
> Unemployment rate: 4.8%

Located in southwest Florida, the Naples metro area’s population rose by 10.7% over the last five years. The area’s unusually high growth rate is likely due to its status as a retirement destination, as a generation of baby boomers began to migrate warmer climates. Nearly 30% of the area’s population is at least 65 years and old, more than double the national proportion.

19. Fort Collins, CO
> Population growth (2010-2015):
> Total population: 333,577
> Per capita income: $43,584
> Unemployment rate: 2.8%

People tend to move to areas with greater job opportunities. Job prospects may have contributed to the Fort Collins area’s 11% population growth since 2010, the vast majority of which was due to people moving to the area. The area’s unemployment rate of just 2.8% — the fourth lowest of any U.S. metropolitan area — is indicative of a healthy labor market.

18. Bend-Redmond, OR
> Population growth (2010-2015):
> Total population: 175,268
> Per capita income: $41,675
> Unemployment rate: 5.7%

Bend, Oregon’s population increased by over 11% in the last five years. In many ways, however, the city does not fit the profile of a rapidly growing metropolitan area. Job opportunities tend to attract potential workers to an area, but Bend’s unemployment rate of 5.7% is higher than jobless rate in the majority of metropolitan areas.

17. Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin, FL
> Population growth (2010-2015):
> Total population: 262,172
> Per capita income: $44,950
> Unemployment rate: 4.6%

Compared to the other rapidly growing metropolitan areas that have grown over the past five years, Crestview’s population growth has slowed lately. The area’s population increased by 1.93% last year, while the population of most of the other fastest growing metro areas increased by at least 2%. Still, that 1.93% growth is substantially greater than the 0.79% national increase over the same period.

16. Daphne-Fairhope-Foley, AL
> Population growth (2010-2015):
> Total population: 203,709
> Per capita income: $39,040
> Unemployment rate: 6.0%

Some of the Daphne-Fairhope-Foley metropolitan area’s population growth was due to natural population growth — approximately 1,200 more people were born in the region than died over the last five years. The vast majority of the area’s population growth of 21,444 was due to migration. Well over 18,000 more people moved to the area than left since April 2010.

15. Auburn-Opelika, AL
> Population growth (2010-2015):
> Total population: 156,993
> Per capita income: $33,064
> Unemployment rate: 5.3%

Residents of most fast-growing metros have relatively high incomes, reflecting the economic strengths that help keep and draw residents to the area. In the Auburn-Opelika metro, however, the per capita income of $33,064 is one of the lowest in the country. The low incomes could be due at least in part to the youth of the population, as younger Americans tend to earn less than their older counterparts. Just 10.4% of adults are 65 or older, one of the lowest such shares nationwide.

14. Charleston-North Charleston, SC
> Population growth (2010-2015):
> Total population: 744,526
> Per capita income: $41,305
> Unemployment rate: 4.8%

In the past year alone, the population of Charleston, South Carolina, grew at a 2.42% rate. In the last five years, the city’s population grew by 11.5%. Like most of the fastest growing metropolitan areas, Charleston’s population increase was primarily due to migration and not due to natural growth. Of the nearly 80,000 new residents living in Charleston, more than 55,000 people moved to the area.

13. Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL
> Population growth (2010-2015):
> Total population: 2,387,138
> Per capita income: $37,104
> Unemployment rate: 4.7%

With the exception of the Houston and Austin, Texas areas, the Orlando metropolitan area is the largest fastest-growing metro in the country. Roughly one-quarter of a million more people live in the area compared to just five years ago. The vast majority of this growth has come from net migration. Slightly less than 190,000 more people moved to Orlando than left in the last five years.

12. Fargo, ND-MN
> Population growth (2010-2015):
> Total population: 233,836
> Per capita income: $48,914
> Unemployment rate: 3.2%

A large part of the state of North Dakota has experienced an economic boom and population explosion as a result of the development of the Bakken shale formation. While declining oil prices appear to be starting to curb this growth, Fargo’s population grew by more than 25,000 over the last five years.

11. Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX
> Population growth (2010-2015):
> Total population: 6,656,947
> Per capita income: $54,820
> Unemployment rate: 4.8%

Like many major cities with substantial population growth rates in the past few years, Houston has likely attracted new residents with its relatively robust economy and abundant job opportunities. However, according to Frey, the area’s economic and population growth may be slowing today as a result of declining oil prices.

10. Raleigh, NC
> Population growth (2010-2015):
> Total population: 1,273,568
> Per capita income: $46,636
> Unemployment rate: 4.8%

Areas with diverse, technologically-oriented economies are more likely to attract young workers, according to Frey. This was likely a factor in Raleigh, where 16.2% of the population is employed in professional and scientific roles compared to 11.1% of the U.S. workforce and a greater share than in all but a handful of major metropolitan areas.

9. Greeley, CO
> Population growth (2010-2015):
> Total population: 285,174
> Per capita income: $38,664
> Unemployment rate: 3.3%

Greeley, Colorado’s population grew by more than 12% over the last five years, adding a net of 32,343 people over that time. While a portion of this increase — approximately 12,217 people — was due to more births than deaths in the area, most of the growth was due to net migration. Since 2010, just under 20,000 more people moved to Greeley than moved away.

8. Bismarck, ND
> Population growth (2010-2015):
> Total population: 129,517
> Per capita income: $50,173
> Unemployment rate: 3.5%

Another North Dakotan metropolitan area that has benefitted from the recent oil boom, Bismarck’s population rose by over 12% over the last five years as workers streamed into the area to fill new job openings. Bismarck’s current unemployment rate of 3.5% is well below the national rate of 4.9%. However, as there are signs the boom is nearing an end, the population increase may begin to wane.

7. St. George, UT
> Population growth (2010-2015):
> Total population: 155,602
> Per capita income: $29,659
> Unemployment rate: 4.1%

Younger residents are more likely to relocate, and cities more suited to younger residents tend to see greater population influxes. Still, older residents relocate as well, particularly if they mean to retire. In St. George, where nearly one in five adults are 65 or older, 11,397 more people moved to the area than left over the last five years.

6. Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL
> Population growth (2010-2015):
> Total population: 701,982
> Per capita income: $42,243
> Unemployment rate: 4.7%

Like several of the other fastest-growing metropolitan areas, the Cape Coral-Fort Myers metropolitan area’s population is likely growing because it is a retirement destination. More than one in every four residents in the area is a senior citizen compared to a national proportion of 14.5% who are 65 and older. Nearby Naples is also one of the fastest growing metro areas.

5. Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach, SC-NC
> Population growth (2010-2015):
> Total population: 431,964
> Per capita income: $32,913
> Unemployment rate: 7.9%

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina is a vacation and retirement destination, and as the baby boomer generation retires, the populations of such places continue to surge. While 14.5% of the nation’s adults are senior citizens, 22.3% of Myrtle Beach’s population is 65 and older.

4. Austin-Round Rock, TX
> Population growth (2010-2015):
> Total population: 2,000,860
> Per capita income: $47,026
> Unemployment rate: 3.2%

Like many rapidly growing cities in the South and Southwest, Austin has benefitted from a burgeoning, high-tech economy. As many as 14.8% of the region’s population is employed in professional or scientific occupations, more than nearly every U.S. metro region. Austin’s unemployment rate of 3.2% is also one of the lowest in the country.

3. Odessa, TX
> Population growth (2010-2015):
> Total population: 159,436
> Per capita income: $47,069
> Unemployment rate: 5.4%

Odessa’s population increased from 137,130 to 159,436 in the last five years. While a significant share of this increase came from natural population change — births minus deaths — the vast majority was the result of people moving to the area. Nearly 14,000 more people moved to the southern Texas metro area than left it.

2. Midland, TX
> Population growth (2010-2015):
> Total population: 166,718
> Per capita income: $94,863
> Unemployment rate: 3.8%

Younger residents are more likely to relocate to a new city than older residents. In Midland, where the population increased by 17.6% in the last five years, just 9.7% of residents are senior citizens, tied with Odessa for the lowest such proportion in the country. Like most of the fastest growing metro areas, Midland’s growth stems from a strong job market. Midland’s GDP per capita grew by an unparalleled 24.1% compared to a national GDP growth rate of just 2.2%.

1. The Villages, FL
> Population growth (2010-2015):
> Total population: 118,891
> Per capita income: $37,558
> Unemployment rate: 7.3%

The Villages, Florida, is the fastest growing U.S. metropolitan area, having increased its population by one quarter. While many of the fastest growing cities are retirement destinations, which are attracting the increasingly larger share of retiring Americans, none compare to The Villages, located in central Florida. More than half of the metro area’s population is 65 and older, by far the highest proportion of any metro area in the country.

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