11-30-2021 – Caldwell’s 20-year population growth surged, then waned

Posted on: December 1st, 2021 by admin No Comments


December 1, 2021




Nov 30, 2021


LENOIR — The populations of Caldwell County’s municipalities have drastically changed over the past 20 years.


Caldwell County saw significant population growth from 2000 to 2010, based on data from the Economic Indicators Newsletter, which provides information from the U.S. Census. The population in Caldwell County grew from 77,708 to 83,029 in just 10 years. However, from 2010 to 2020, this growth did not continue as population numbers decreased to 80,652. While Caldwell has experienced growth, the decreasing numbers within the last decade are cause for contemplation about the impact this will have on the county’s municipalities.


For example, Lenoir reaped a significant increase in population from 2000 to 2010. In 2000, the population was 16,774. Ten years later, the population had grown to 18,228, an 8.7% increase. From 2010 to 2020, though, the population grew only 0.7% to a total of 18,352 residents.


Deborah Murray, executive director at Caldwell County Economic Development Commission, cited the housing shortage as a factor in population numbers.


“Caldwell County is just now beginning to generate new housing inventory for the first time since the Great Recession in 2008,” she said. “Housing has been a top economic development priority for the EDC. Our businesses and industries will grow faster when we can meet that need.”


Jenny Wheelock, the planning director for Lenoir, said that even though jobs are available and wages have increased recently, the “huge loss of furniture manufacturing jobs in the mid-2000s” and the lack of housing has “held back our full growth potential in the last decade.”


“Great efforts have been made by local leaders over the past decade to diversify Lenoir’s and Caldwell’s economy,” Wheelock said, “and unemployment has stayed low in recent years (with the exception of COVID-19 shutdowns). But with a housing shortage also comes another problem — the in-migration of workers for the new diversified economy didn’t happen, because those workers couldn’t find housing.”


Another example is the Caldwell County part of Rhodhiss, which has seen only declining numbers over the past 20 years. In 2000, the population of people living in this section of Rhodhiss was 394. Last year, this number dropped to 358, according to the 2020 Census.


Rick Justice, the town manager for Rhodhiss, said that this loss could be attributed to the majority of residents being senior citizens.


“In a two-year span, on one street, we lost about seven individuals,” he said.


This steady decline in the population has impacted the community of Rhodhiss in a meaningful way. Justice noted that the historical values that people held for their hometown have been lost.

“Lots of people who left were major contributors to the city,” Justice said. “People who played a role in the community are now gone.”


According to the Economic Indicators Newsletter, which reports economic trends in the Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton metropolitan statistical area, Lenoir is the second largest municipality in the region with a population of 18,352 as of the 2020 Census. Municipalities including Blowing Rock, Cedar Rock, and the Rhodhiss part in Caldwell County all saw a decrease in their populations from 2000 to 2010. However, from 2010 to 2020, Blowing Rock and Cedar Rock saw their populations increase, while Rhodhiss and other municipalities continued to have decreases in population.The largest population losses from 2010 to 2020 occurred in Gamewell (349 population decrease) and Sawmills (220 population decrease).


Area stakeholders suggest the trend that can be seen in these population numbers is one of slow, but steady, increase. With the introduction of new jobs and the development of new residential housing, there is hope the county will soon begin to see significant population growth again.


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