Triangle’s small towns stay hot, Raleigh growth resumes, latest census numbers show

After a brief lull during the COVID-19 pandemic, Raleigh is growing again.

An estimated 482,295 people lived in the city last July 1, according to the latest municipal population estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s up nearly 1.9% from a year earlier, the highest rate of annual population growth in the city in several years.

In fact, after decades of steady growth, Raleigh’s population dipped slightly between 2019 and 2020, according to the census. Now the agency estimates that nearly 17,000 more people lived in the city last summer than in July 2020, an increase of about 3.6%.

The census estimates show that people continue to pour into smaller, increasingly suburban towns in the Triangle. Wendell has been the region’s fastest growing; the town’s population grew 44.2% between 2020 and last summer, to an estimated 14,400. Statewide, that’s second only to the Brunswick County town of Boliva, at 48.4%.

Three other Triangle towns have grown more than 25% in just three years: Zebulon, Fuquay-Varina and the Harnett County town of Angier.

As new home development moves increasingly to outlying areas, Cary has matured. The town, now North Carolina’s seventh largest city with 180,000 residents, was Wake County’s slowest growing municipality between 2020 and 2023, at 3%.

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Other findings from the Census Bureau estimates:

Of the 551 cities, towns and villages in North Carolina, 91 lost population in the year ending last July 1. Most were in rural areas of the state, but they included three in the Triangle: Carrboro, Hillsborough and Siler City, which all contracted by a half percent or less.

Charlotte is still by far North Carolina’s largest city, with an estimated 911,311 residents last summer. It’s the nation’s 15th most populous city, just behind Columbus, Ohio, and ahead of Indianapolis.

Raleigh remained the state’s second largest city and the 41st largest in the country, just behind Omaha and ahead of Virginia Beach.

Durham has grown at twice the rate of Greensboro since 2020 and will likely be the state’s third largest city before the decade is out. Last summer, Durham had an estimated 296,186 residents, about 6,100 fewer than Greensboro.

Johnston County has been among the state’s fastest-growing counties for decades, and that’s reflected in the populations of its small towns. Of the 50 fastest-growing towns in North Carolina since 2020, 11 are in Johnston County. Clayton leads at 13.2%, but all 11 towns have seen their populations grow 9% or more in three years.