Census Bureau estimates show county population nears 150,000

Published 12:10 am Thursday, April 20, 2023

SALISBURY — It’s probably not a surprise to anyone that Rowan County continues to grow, according to the latest county-level population estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Since 2020, the last year the bureau conducted a nationwide Census, the county has seen a growth of 1.7 percent, bringing the population to almost 150,000 residents at 149,645. From 2020 to 2021, the population saw an increase of 864 residents; the next year — 2021 to 2022 — that number almost doubled with 1,633 new residents moving to the county, a 1.1 percent increase.

Commissioner Greg Edds, the chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, attributes some of the growth to people wanting a better quality of life, cheaper cost of living and escaping crime in large communities. But he emphasized economic expansion as a major reason for the recent growth, with more businesses setting up shop and more job opportunities. This is something Edds said the county hasn’t seen until recently and it’s attracting more people, as well as keeping them.

“We firmly believe that fewer people are leaving for opportunity because now they see opportunity here. It’s also attracting folks here that weren’t coming before,” Edds said.

He said many people are working to market and advertise the county as a viable place to live, such as the Rowan County Economic Development Council, the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce and the Rowan County Educational Collaborative.

“There’s literally hundreds of people who are working on a singular effort to get people to stay here, bring new folks, bring new jobs and investments and bring people home who are working out of town,” Edds said.

But Rowan County is lagging a bit behind in comparison to surrounding counties. While Rowan saw a growth of 1.7 percent in population since 2020, Davidson, Stanly, Mecklenburg and Davie counties all saw an increase of 2 percent or more. Cabarrus County had an increase of 3.8 percent since 2020, and Iredell County also had an increase of 4.4 percent.

Commissioner Jim Greene, vice chairman of the commissioners, said both Iredell and Cabarrus have seen steady growth in recent years because of their close proximity to the Charlotte-metro area, which was recently reported to rank in the top 10 of fastest growing metros in the U.S. Greene said that Rowan is next in line.

“Being located close to the Charlotte metropolitan area would be a lot of the reason that those counties are ahead of us. But I do believe that we are going to catch up,” Greene said.

Edds said the same, but also mentioned that those other counties have been in the midst of economic development for a longer period of time, while Rowan is only at the beginning.

“You’re beginning to see now all this economic development take place, but it just hasn’t opened yet. Everything is in the planning and early construction phase. These others (counties), it got to them quite a bit earlier,” Edds said. “We’re at the beginning stages.”

Edds said the county currently has tens of millions of square feet of space in which incoming businesses can take up residence. He specifically mentioned businesses moving to the county like Agility Fuel Solutions, Intercon Furniture, Eastern Fence, New York Air Brake and Chewy as major wins as far as economic development.

It makes sense that Rowan and the neighboring counties are seeing growth when you take into account that North Carolina is one of the fastest growing states in the nation. The bureau estimates that over 133,000 people moved to the Tar Heel state between 2021 and 2022. Rowan ranks 36th in fastest growing counties in the state.

With more growth, issues are bound to arise. Greene and Edds said the main issue they are focused on right now is the county’s schools. Edds said it is vital to have an exceptional school system to attract more and maintain the growth the county has been seeing. The commissioners recently sat down with school system officials for an inventory of the county’s schools, assessment of current enrollment and capacity concerns.

“It is without a doubt the biggest issue that we’re concerned about,” Edds said.

The Census Bureau releases population estimates each year, but the official U.S. Census only occurs every 10 years.