Some towns, cities in Rowan top countywide 6% growth rate

Published 12:04 am Sunday, August 15, 2021

By Natalie Anderson and Ben Stansell

SALISBURY — While data from the 2020 Census show Rowan County’s population grew by about 6% over the last decade, some local municipalities saw rates as high as 24%.

The U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday released local-level Census results, which will be used for N.C. lawmakers to draw Congressional and state legislative districts later this year. While the bureau regularly releases population estimates and other data, the U.S. Census occurs every 10 years. Data show Rowan County now has 146,875 residents.

Census data show Kannapolis, China Grove and Landis saw the largest increases proportional to their total population. The city of Salisbury grew by 5%, with the population now totaling 35,540 people.

Shellie Eagle Stubbs, owner of Oxford + Lee and a Realtor in Rowan County, said the lack of real estate in the eastern part of Rowan County, and the 28146 area code in particular, is a reason for the growth being seen in that area. She expects it to continue to “explode” with growth.

“There is not much territory in Salisbury’s 28146 area code compared to other areas of Rowan County,” Stubbs said. “I can see where that growth is happening in that side of Rowan County. I think it’s fantastic.”

Stubbs applauded Salisbury city leaders for changes to beautify its downtown streetscape, which is sure to bring in more growth.

Victor Wallace of Wallace Realty said the growth in Salisbury and Rowan County is exciting because both are well-positioned to sustain growth from Charlotte with infrastructure and space for further development. He credited Rowan County with having more space for development compared to nearby Iredell and Cabarrus counties.

“Salisbury is so lucky because it already has all of the infrastructure you would look for in a city,” Wallace said. “It’s got restaurants, arts galleries, performing arts theaters. It’s got three colleges and a seminary school. Salisbury has the infrastructure of a town two or three times its size.”

Wallace said the county’s overall growth was moderate and somewhere between the rate of growth being seen in Iredell County, which saw a 17% growth rate, and Cabarrus County, which was one of the fastest-growing counties in the state, at nearly 27%. He said Charlotte’s growth proved to have a lower impact further away from the city center. He also predicted Rowan County will catch up to Iredell and Cabarrus counties in the next 10 years and could enter into a period of “hypergrowth.”

Salisbury resident Raemi Evans said the growth in Salisbury is evident, and the city has room for plenty more. She recalled a time when the local mills provided many young people with an additional option to stay and work in Rowan County.

“At one time, most of the students that graduated from high school knew exactly if they were going to college or if they were going to work at the mill,” Evans said. “There are not enough opportunities for them to do much work here. There is a need for some businesses strong like the mills had been.”

Evans also said more businesses and job opportunities that provide similar career paths and long-term employment would help with the city’s crime rate. Though many businesses are currently in need of more workers, Evans said jobs are needed that provide long-term and retirement benefits as well as attract young people.

More housing — primarily affordable housing — needs to be in place to accommodate the growth, she added.

Kannapolis Mayor Darrell Hinnant said his city’s economic and population growth has been “explosive” in large part because of the city’s proximity to Charlotte. Downtown redevelopment brought new businesses to previously vacant buildings, transformed the West Avenue streetscape, built a new Minor League ballpark and, importantly, brought “buzz” to the former textile town.

After the 2010 Census, data showed 42,625 people living in the city. The number grew by about 24%, to 53,114 people, by the 2020 Census.

It wasn’t surprising to see growth, Hinnant said, but the final number was unexpected.

“I don’t think anyone would have predicted 20-plus percent back in 2010,” he said.

He looks at the fact that Cabarrus County, where most of Kannapolis sits, grew faster than Mecklenburg County as proof that there’s more to population growth than simply being close to Charlotte. Hinnant looks at the future as chock-full of growth potential, too, because downtown redevelopment is only 40% finished, new townhome and condominium construction hasn’t yet started and there are other announcements to come.

The only speed bump to topping this year’s percentage, Hinnant said, is that Kannapolis will need to add more people than the roughly 10,000 it added between 2010 and 2020 to top 24% again.

Right behind Kannapolis’ growth rate since 2010 is the town of China Grove, which also grew by about 24%. Census data say 4,434 residents call China Grove their home.

Mayor Charles Seaford said China Grove offers a small-town atmosphere with “safety to walk the streets without fearing harm.” Additionally, the town’s location provides great commuting access for those who work in larger cities but want to live in China Grove.

In order to sustain such growth, Seaford said the town will need more houses and new developments.

“I’m tickled to death to have more people down here,” Seaford said. “That just to me shows what China Grove has to offer and the fact that people want to come to China Grove. That’s one of the reasons we’ve looked hard at increasing the housing down here.”

Seaford said China Grove’s downtown has unique businesses, including a candy shop, soap shop and Wanderer’s Rest. He expects the southern portion of Rowan County to continue its growth track.

“That’s the way people are moving and I’m excited for it,” Seaford said.

Landis saw growth of 17%, or about 552 additional residents, for a total of 3,690 residents. Resident Nadine Cherry said she’s glad to see the town finally growing, and that it makes sense given the rising number of developments. In June, town officials agreed to move forward with modifying the town’s extraterritorial jurisdiction to make room for a proposed subdivision project at Irish Buffalo Creek, an area that is split between Kannapolis and parts of Landis.

“There are a lot of houses being built on these empty lots,” Cherry said. “(Landis) is ripe for the plucking. The growth is coming.”

Cherry said there haven’t been enough new businesses joining the town to catch up with the growth, which means she often has to travel to Kannapolis. She also fears continued growth could lead to increased taxes for the town.

Census data show Rockwell grew by nearly 200 people, which amounts to a 9% growth for the town. The population now is 2,302 people.

Jim Duncan, an Army veteran and Rockwell resident who moved to the town in 1982, says he’s surprised the town’s Census data only show a growth of about 200 people in the previous decade. It’s easy for Duncan to count the new neighborhoods, businesses and apartments that have made Rockwell home.

He jokes that the town is known for having more auto parts stores per mile than anywhere in the county, but Rockwell can also claim large employers such as FillTech USA, which makes personal care products such as lip balm and sunscreen, and Clayton Homes, which makes manufactured and modular homes. There’s a new medical clinic and a good variety of restaurants nearby, too.

“I think the leadership in Rockwell is strong,” Duncan said. “It’s a small town and we live close to each other. It’s a nice, friendly place to live.”

He doesn’t see much more room for growth inside of the town limits unless land is annexed, but there’s space in the surrounding countryside if developers want to build more homes.

East Spencer saw 2% growth, for a total of 1,567 residents. While Mayor Barbara Mallett said she’s happy to see the growth, she also thinks the actual rate of growth is much higher due to the town’s low response rate. In August 2020, East Spencer had the lowest response rate of the county, at 31%. Following the conclusion of the Census, East Spencer sits at a nearly 35% self-response rate.

Mallett attributes the low self-response rate to the pandemic and a growing Hispanic population that might have felt reluctant to take the Census.

“I’m happy to see the growth. It really mimics what we are doing in the town,” Mallet said. “That we are growing and showing some advancement.”

Mallett credits the town with stepping up its zoning, planning and code enforcement policies and working to put some of its property on the market. She estimates up to 40 properties have been “put back on the tax roll,” allowing the town to continue gaining tax dollars to further grow its fund balance and reserves.

The growth, Mallett said, may also help the town in securing federal and state funds to continue mitigating its water and sewer infrastructure, which can then be broadened to areas not currently within the town’s limits.

“I’m glad we gained and did not lose,” she said.

Census data show the town of Spencer grew by 1%, adding 41 new residents to total 3,308.

Granite Quarry grew by almost 2% after adding 54 new residents to total 2,984.

While it was just 25 residents, data show the town of Cleveland as the only municipality that saw a decrease in its population — nearly 3%. The total population sits at 846.

The town of Faith saw a little more than 1% of growth for a total of 819 residents.

Editor Josh Bergeron contributed to this report. 

About Natalie Anderson

Natalie Anderson covers the city of Salisbury, politics and more for the Salisbury Post. She joined the staff in January 2020 after graduating from Louisiana State University, where she was editor of The Reveille newspaper. Email her at or call her at 704-797-4246.

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