Census: York Co. is state’s 2nd fastest growing county, gains 37%

A housing boom throughout most of the last decade made York the state’s second fastest-growing county.

The county’s population grew by 37.3 percent, or 61,459 residents, since the last census was taken in 2000, according to U.S. Census figures released Wednesday. That’s just behind Dorchester County, which grew 41.6 percent. Horry County was third at 37 percent.

Overall, the state grew by 613,352 people, or 15.3 percent. Lancaster County was the state’s fifth-fastest growing county, gaining 15,301 residents for a 25 percent increase.

But Chester lost 928 residents, a 3 percent decrease.

With more than 226,000 residents, York County is South Carolina’s seventh largest, data from the 2010 census show. Rock Hill, which grew 32.9 percent, was again the state’s fifth most populous city with 66,154 residents.

York County’s growth reflects the Charlotte region’s popularity during the national housing boom of the early to mid 2000s, which ultimately crashed and sent the economy into a tailspin.

Towns and communities near the North Carolina border grew at a blistering pace. The Lake Wylie area’s population nearly tripled, while Tega Cay’s growth rate was 88 percent.

“That’s (Charlotte) suburban growth,” said Jerome McKibben, a Rock Hill-based demographer who has advised school districts nationally. “There just happens to be a state line there.”

McKibben, who specializes in small area population projections, doesn’t think York County’s growth reflects the entire decade. Growth stagnated following the recession, he said.

Mark Farris, York County’s economic development director, has noticed that trend. The number of housing permits issued annually has declined in recent years, he said.

In 2007, more than 2,800 building permits were issued for single-family homes in York County. That number fell to 1,001 in 2010.

“We saw it peaking at 2007,” McKibben said. “It’s been pretty much flat since.”

Another House seat?

One change the county can expect is a louder voice in Columbia.

With more residents, York County will likely gain a seat in the state House, said Karen Kedrowski, a Winthrop University political science professor. York now has four House districts and shares three others with neighboring counties.

Using the new census data, lawmakers are expected to draw new lines for the state’s 124 House districts by this summer.

“If you think about this in terms of raw political power,” Kedrowski said, “it’s good for York County.”

Growth also brought challenges, from congested streets to crammed campuses. Motorists frequently face traffic jams on Fort Mill’s Gold Hill Road and Rock Hill’s Cherry Road during their morning or afternoon commutes.

Still, Farris said he’s thankful voters in 1997 approved a 1 percent sales tax hike to pay for a road construction program called Pennies for Progress. Voters renewed the tax in 2003.

“Can you imagine what it would have been like without Pennies for Progress?” he said.

The growth boom’s effects are probably most evident in Fort Mill schools, which saw enrollment double since 2000, from 5,117 students to 10,252.

The district has built elementary, middle and high schools to keep up, including Nation Ford High School. But the recession caught up to the district in recent years. Its fourth middle school was completed last year but sits empty because the district couldn’t afford to open it.

The school board plans to partially open Banks Trail Middle in the fall, a year later than originally planned.

By Shawn Cetrone, Staff Reporter with The Herald