Around the Region: Population growth mixed in WNC counties

Published 5:58 pm Thursday, March 3, 2011

Charlotte, Raleigh, Wilmington metros see biggest jumps
Population changes were mixed in Western North Carolina in the past decade, ranging from a loss of 0.7 percent in Mitchell County to a jump of 21.6 percent in Jackson County, according to Census 2010 data released this week.
Only four counties in the 24-county WNC region topped the statewide average population growth of 18.5 percent. Five counties (Cleveland, Burke, Avery, Alleghany and Yancey) saw growth of less than five percent, while 13 counties, including Polk, Rutherford and McDowell had population increases between 5 and 15 percent. With growth of 11.9 percent, Polk and Ashe counties were tied as the ninth fastest growing county in the WNC region.
Statewide, the biggest population growth was seen around Charlotte, Raleigh and Wilmington, where residents continued to flock to the cities as well as surrounding suburban and rural areas. Union County, east of Charlotte, topped the state’s 100 counties in population growth, surging 62.7 percent between 2000 and 2010. Other counties in the Charlotte metro area saw big increases, including Mecklenburg (32.2 percent), Cabarrus (35.7 percent) and Iredell (30 percent).
Similar growth was seen in the Raleigh-Durham area, where Wake County led with an increase of 43.5 percent, followed by Johnson County at 38.5 percent and Chatham County at 28.7 percent.
North Carolina’s Hispanic population more than doubled in the past decade, rising 111 percent, compared to an increase of just 13.9 percent for the non-Hispanic population. Hispanic residents now make up 8.4 percent of the state’s population. As of the last year’s Census, the state had 9,535,483 residents, an increase of 1,486,170 from 2000.
Charlotte remained the state’s largest city in 2010 with a population of 731,400, an increase of 35 percent. Raleigh remains much smaller at 403,900 by grew faster with a jump of 46 percent. Asheville’s population rose 21 percent to 83,393, topping the statewide average growth rate.
Detailed Census 2010 data has not been released yet for South Carolina.
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Even before BMW Manufacturing completes a $750 million expansion and upgrade at its Spartanburg County factory, the company has announced another major investment for the facility. BMW said it plans to spend another $100 million to make its export operation more efficient. The change is expected to help open up new markets for the export of the BMW X3 model produced in Spartanburg County, according to company president Josef Kerscher. BMW has partnered with Syncreon to provide warehousing, kitting and logistics services that will prepare vehicles for export to emerging markets.
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The S.C. State Ports Authority (SPA) has completed improvements to a terminal in Charleston, S.C. so it can better handle BMW’s export business. The $22 million project upgraded infrastructure on more than 70 acres of storage yard that will receive the BMW X5, X6 and X3 vehicles produced in Spartanburg. SPA reported that BMW exports from South Carolina were valued at more than $4 billion last year.
The move to a new terminal is expected to clear the way for SPA to develop a new cruise ship terminal in Charleston and allow the city to create additional public access to the waterfront.
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The former Radisson and Wilson World Hotel at the intersection of I-26 and Business 85 in Spartanburg has reopened as a Clarion Hotel. The Roberts Hotel Group completed renovations of the hotel last year as part of the rebranding of the facility. The hotel has 200 rooms, including 85 suites. It also has 11 conference rooms and 13,000 square feet of banquet and meeting space that can accommodate up to 400 people. The new Clarion Hotel is part of Choice Hotels International, which franchises more than 6,000 hotels around the world.
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Haywood Community College is moving forward with construction of an $8.3 million creative arts building that will be home to professional crafts and continuing education programs. The 41,665-square-foot, two-story building will be built to Platinum LEED certification, the highest level of green building certification, according to the college. The building will use a photovoltaic system for energy, incorporating both solar and solar-thermal technology. Some county commissioners questioned the higher costs associated with building a Platinum LEED building, but college officials and the building designers said the design will save much more in energy costs over time.
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The University of South Carolina’s Center of Economic Excellence for the Hydrogen Economy has received a $1.5 million grant from Fluor Corp. and Savannah River Nuclear Solutions. The university plans to use the funds to recruit two world-class scientists whose research might help grow innovative industries in the state. USC said it is partnering with Fluor and Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS) to advance the science, technology and commercialization of clean, secure, renewable energy. SRNS partners with Fluor, along with Northrop Grumman Corp. and Honeywell International Inc., to operate the Savannah River Site under a contract from the U.S. Department of Energy.
The state of South Carolina will provide $1.5 million in matching funds for the project through its Centers of Economic Excellence program. The program, created in 2002, allows USC, Clemson and the Medical University of South Carolina, to use S.C. Education Lottery funds to advance the state’s economy.
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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has officially declared the extinction of the eastern cougar in Western North Carolina. The agency completed an extensive review prior to making the determination.
Martin Miller, the agency’s Northeast Region Chief of Endangered Species, acknowledged reported sightings of cougars across the region, but he said those cougars are likely wild cougars migrated from the western U.S. or South American cougars that had been held in captivity, rather than the eastern cougar subspecies. The eastern cougar, slightly smaller than the western species, had been on the endangered species list since 1973. Mark McCollough, the lead scientist for U.S. Fish & Wildlife, said the eastern cougar likely has been extinct since the 1930s.