In the past decade, metropolitan areas in the South and West saw great population growth. But when the recession hit near the end of the decade, cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix saw their populations plateau. Growth is expected to resume, driven by demographic trends such as the rise of Hispanics, the shifting of the nation’s population center further to the West, and opportunities for jobs in industries like healthcare, logistics, technology, and finance, which rely more on human talent than access to natural resources to prosper. These metropolitan areas with more than a million residents saw the most growth between 2000 and 2009.
2000 Population: 804,000
2009 Population: 1.125 million
Percent growth 2000-2009: 40 percent
Being home to such well-known universities as Duke, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and Wake Forest fuels a young and educated population in the “Research Triangle,” which includes Raleigh, Durham, and Cary. The universities are some of the area’s biggest employers, but small businesses also thrive there, with nearly 30,000 in Raleigh alone. In 2009, CNN Money named Raleigh one of the best places for small business startups. Nearby Cary was the third-fastest growing city of 100,000 people or more between 2008 and 2009. A 2009 article in Bizjournals predicts Raleigh will be the fastest-growing metro area through 2025.
Las Vegas metropolitan area
2000 Population: 1.39 million
2009 Population: 1.9 million
Percent growth 2000-2009: 36.5 percent
Las Vegas saw huge gains early in the decade due to a robust economy that fueled gaming, tourism, and construction, but when the recession hit, Las Vegas’s growth stalled. Still, the area saw the most growth of any metropolitan area during the 2000s, with North Las Vegas’s population essentially doubling. In 2007, Hispanics made up 28 percent of the county, up from 22 percent in 2000. The Vegas metro area has one of the highest foreclosure rates and one of the largest inventories of vacant homes in the country.
Austin metropolitan area
2000 Population: 1.27 million
2009 Population: 1.7 million
Percent growth 2000-2009: 34.7 percent
Austin gets a lot of buzz for being an up-and-coming city, and for good reason. Since 1990, it has nearly doubled in size, and has had a large influx of young, educated workers—43 percent of adults 25 and older there have a bachelor’s degree. Its two week-long festivals—Austin City Limits, which focuses on music, and South by Southwest, a music, film, and culture conference—win annual praise, and bring millions of dollars to the local economy and plenty of exposure to the city. “People come to Austin and they’re able to find an identity--if we were back in the 60s and we had a slogan, we might say ‘There’s a place for everyone in Austin,’” says city demographer Ryan Robinson. “We’ve become a gravitational attractor to well-educated young adults. Then they end up attracting other well-educated young people.” Texas’ state capitol is also home to one of the country’s largest state university systems.
Phoenix metropolitan area
2000 Population: 3.28 million
2009 Population: 4.36 million
Percent growth 2000-2009: 33 percent
Like Las Vegas, Phoenix saw huge growth in the early part of the decade. Dan Hunting, a demographer for the Sonoran Institute, a think tank that studies the Southwest, says the growth was unsustainable. “What do people do for a living in Phoenix? They were mainly building houses for the next wave of people to come out here,” he says. “That worked well for decades, but I think that has pretty clearly changed now.” A crackdown on illegal immigration and an economic downturn have led many Hispanics to leave Arizona, which Hunting sees as a negative. “Regardless of legality, this is a demographic that was young and highly motivated to get ahead,” he says. “The fact that these people have left could be a major problem in future years.” It’s not all bad news for Phoenix, though. The city has emerging solar energy and biotech industries that could fuel future growth.
Charlotte, N.C. metropolitan area
2000 Population: 1.34 million
2009 Population: 1.74 million
Percent growth 2000-2009: 30.2 percent
In 1981, North Carolina National Bank, a small chain of banks based in Charlotte, opened its first branch in Florida, and with that, interstate banking was born. Today, that bank is known as Bank of America, and its headquarters are still in Charlotte, the nation’s second-largest banking city (after New York). Charlotte’s growth took a hit during the recession, but with companies such as Wells Fargo, Siemens, and BFGoodrich tires headquartering or holding major operations in the city, it has resumed growing at one of the fastest rates in the country. “It’s like we had to take one step back and now we’re going back to taking two steps forward,” says assistant city manager Jim Schumacher.
Atlanta metropolitan area
2000 Population: 4.28 million
2009 Population: 5.47 million
Percent growth 2000-2009: 27.8 percent
Atlanta’s metro area grew more than any other city’s during the 2000s, gaining about one million people to push its population to 5.2 million. Atlanta’s city limits also saw huge growth, and both the city and region are popular places for corporate headquarters. The Peachtree City’s low taxes, cheap office space, and temperate climate have led companies like Home Depot, CNN, and Delta to call Atlanta home. The federal Centers for Disease Control are also Atlanta-based, which has contributed to Atlanta’s growth. “Since 2001, there has been a huge investment in defending the country from biological attacks,” says Peter Aman, Atlanta’s Chief Operating Officer.
Riverside-San Bernardino, Calif. metropolitan area
2000 Population: 3.27 million
2009 Population: 4.14 million
Percent growth 2000-2009: 26.4 percent
Inexpensive land and a location between Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Phoenix made the “Inland Empire”—located about 60 miles east of Los Angeles—a popular area for industrial and residential development. But the recession caused foreclosures and industrial vacancies to skyrocket—by the end of 2008, the city had a 12.4 percent vacancy rate. Toyota, Whirlpool, and grocery giant Kroger Co. have distribution centers there, and it continues to grow as more Hispanics and Asians move to the area. Educational achievement remains a problem; one-in-four adults doesn’t have a high school degree, and median wages are among the lowest of any metropolitan area.
Orlando metropolitan area
2000 Population: 1.65 million
2009 Population: 2.1 million
Percent growth 2000-2009: 25.7 percent
Florida is often seen as a place to retire, but Orlando is one of the younger cities in the state—just 13 percent of Orlando’s population is made up of people 65 and older. The city and surrounding metropolitan area spurred much of Florida’s growth. Natural birth and immigration led the population increase; many longtime residents are moving out of the city. With nearby Disney World, Orlando is always one of the country’s major tourism spots, and Disney is one of the area’s largest employers. Lockheed Martin and Siemens AG also have large facilities in the area.
2000 Population: 5.2 million
2009 Population: 6.4 million
Percent growth 2000-2009: 24 percent
The Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex continues to grow even amidst a recession. Its spot in the middle of the country makes it an easy plane ride from either coast, which is why many companies decide to put their headquarters there. Firms such as American Airlines, Lockheed Martin, Citigroup, and AT&T all have major operations in Dallas, which Mike Rosa of the Dallas Regional Chamber says helped insulate the city from the recession. “When there’s an economic shock that hits one industry, we’ve got other sectors that are doing fine or growing, so we’re buffered economically,” he says. Over the past few years, the metroplex has been adding about 100,000 people per year as companies such as AT&T, Hostess, and Comerica Bank have moved their headquarters to the area.
Houston metropolitan area
2000 Population: 4.74 million
2009 Population: 5.87 million
Percent growth 2000-2009: 23.8 percent
Between 2000 and 2010, the U.S. population grew 9.7 percent and Texas’s population grew 20.6 percent, with Houston’s metropolitan area leading the way, growing 26.1 percent behind a robust oil and energy-based economy. With 24 Fortune 500 companies based in the city, Houston trails only New York in the number of Fortune 500 headquarters. Since 2000, about 300,000 immigrants have moved to Houston. The city also saw a huge population spike in the middle of the decade, when many displaced victims from Hurricane Katrina relocated to the city from New Orleans. Houston is expected to see even more natural growth in the coming years, because it has one of the youngest median ages in the country at 32.9, compared to a national average of 36.8. More than 80 percent of mothers are 35 or younger at the time they give birth.