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How Strong Is Asheville Metro’s Population Growth?

According to recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the four-county Asheville metro (Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson, and Madison) is continuing to add new residents to its population. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, as the metro’s total population has grown in each and every year since at least 1969, as far back as annual population data is available for the metro.  

Most recently, the metro added a net of 4,330 new residents in 2018; up 1.0 percent from 2017. Compared to the other 14 metros in North Carolina, Asheville metro’s growth rate ranks seventh, a hair below the statewide pace of 1.1 percent (see chart below).

2018 Annual Population Growth Rates
North Carolina Metros
2018 Annual Population Growth Rates NC Metros - JPS How Strong Is Asheville Metro's Population Growth - JPS May 2019Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Did the growth in 2018 mark the continuation of a decades-long trend for Asheville metro? Since 1969 Asheville metro’s annual population growth rate has averaged 1.3 percent, but most recently that rate has whipsawed between 2.1 percent in 2006 to 0.6 percent in 2011 (see chart below). However, growth rates over the last decade have tracked at an average of 1.0 percent, slightly below the long run average.

Annual Population Growth Rates
Asheville/NC/National Annual Population Growth Rates 2001-2018 Source: U.S. Census Bureau

A deeper look into the individual metro counties reveals that their growth rates and contributions are changing. In 2018 Buncombe, the largest county in the Asheville metro with a population of 259,103, accounted for 56.4 percent of the total yet only contributed 44.3 percent of the annual increase (see chart below). Henderson County which has consistently been the second largest population contributor added 1,291 residents or 29.8 percent of the metro gain. Most surprising, Haywood County, by adding 935 new residents, contributed 21.6 percent of the metro growth; the highest portion since 1972.

2018 County Contribution to Asheville Metro’s
Total Population Growth
2018 County Contribution to Asheville's Total Population Growth Source: U.S. Census Bureau

In 2018 Buncombe County grew at an annual rate of 0.7%, its slowest rate since 1987. While Haywood County was up by 1.5 percent, its fastest growth rate since 1997. The last decade has experienced a gradual rotation among the metro counties, with Buncombe’s population growth rate slowing while the other three counties are experiencing steadily accelerating growth (see chart below).

Annual Population Growth Rates
Asheville Metro Counties
Annual Population Growth Rates Asheville Metro Counties 2001-2018 Source: U.S. Census Bureau

So how strong is Asheville metro’s population growth? Over the long term, Asheville metro’s population growth has been very steady, always gaining in each year and averaging an annual rate of 1.3 percent. Compared to its peers in the state, Asheville metro’s growth rate is solidly in the middle, ranking seventh of fifteen metros. A closer look at the recent pace indicates a slight deceleration; averaging 1.0 percent per year over the last decade.

Underlying the metro’s growth is a change among the four counties contributing to that growth. The growth rates of the metro’s smaller counties now outpacing its largest.

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About JPS:
Johnson Price Sprinkle PA is a 60+ year old accounting firm providing small to middle market businesses with tax, business consulting, audit, fraud, and technology solution services. With offices in Asheville, Boone, and Marion, NC, our CPAs and JPS team strive to provide personal service alongside technical expertise resulting in our clients’ long-term financial success. We also invest time and energy in our community, taking pride in doing what we can to make Western North Carolina a better place.  JPS Mission: To Be Greater by positively impacting our Clients, People, Community and Profession.