Rural vs. Urban: A Divide

Charlotte is one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States, but growth is not shared evenly in the region. Rural counties that are further from the urban core benefit less from the growth in the city and are losing population as a result. A regional approach and a belief that rural areas are valuable may overcome the stark economic divide that exists between rural and urban counties.

Rural counties around Mecklenburg County are seeing different results of the growth in and around Charlotte. For example, North Carolina counties bordering Charlotte, such as Cabarrus County, Gaston County, and Union County are seeing steady growth in their population, whereas noncontiguous counties like Anson County, Stanly County and Rowan County struggle to maintain population, or have only now returned to pre-crisis population levels. For Anson County in particular, the working-age (age 25-64) population has been specifically difficult to retain. On the other hand, counties bordering Mecklenburg experience much of the migration of those working in or around Charlotte, which leads to a growing tax base and economic activity, even though issues persist around providing sufficient housing, traffic congestion and loss of farmland.

While cities and suburbs prosper, rural areas lag behind, though the connection between them is crucial. A regional approach might tip the equity dynamic, which requires consistent, long-term support for the idea that there is a future in the rural areas, as well as support for regional institutions. Communities that relied heavily on manufacturing in the past should embrace their cultural, historical or natural assets to rebuild their economies. Strategies to develop skills among local populations in rural areas, streamlining education with jobs and attracting the business to match them could also provide more opportunity in the rural counties and bridge the urban-rural divide in the next decades.

Explore the Population Growth Tableau to find out more about population shifts and trends.

UNC Charlotte Urban Institute
Charlotte Observer