The Middle Tennessee boom continues.
That’s evident from US Census Bureau city and county population data recently analyzed by the Tennessee State Data Center, which operates out of the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research in UT’s Haslam College of Business.
Based on the change in population between July 1, 2017, and July 1, 2018, nine of the 10 cities with the largest gains were in Middle Tennessee. Murfreesboro and Clarksville were the state’s two fastest-growing cities of 2018. Metropolitan Nashville–Davidson County was third and ranked as the 24th most populous city in the nation.
In addition, eight of the 10 fastest-growing counties in Tennessee last year were in the middle of the state, and four of those landed among the 100 fastest growing counties in the nation.
“The fact that cities and towns in the Nashville area recorded some impressive population growth again last year is a very familiar concept for residents in that part of the state,” said Tim Kuhn, director of the State Data Center. “The real news here is that this trend is continuing. That is important for planners and public officials working to provide services in these communities and for businesses operating in the area.”
Residents continued to move away from Memphis for the sixth straight year, with the state’s second-largest city losing 944 residents in 2018 and dipping one spot to number 26 in the ranking of largest US cities. Across the state, 136 municipalities lost population in 2019 while 206 increased in size.
Overall, Tennessee cities added 37,471 new residents last year, compared to 27,745 in unincorporated areas.
About 60 percent of the state’s 6.77 million residents lived in incorporated places last year. That split has held pretty steady for the past 20 years, but the source of growth differs across the state.
Last year, 51 percent of the population growth in 90 of 95 Tennessee counties was in unincorporated areas.
“The unincorporated portion of Knox County added 3,534 new residents last year,” Kuhn said. “That’s enough to make it the fourth fastest-growing part of the state. For comparison, the city of Knoxville added 527 residents.”
In Middle Tennessee, however, the growth came from within the cities themselves—not the unincorporated areas surrounding them. Since 2010, the five counties that have seen more city growth are Davidson, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson, and Wilson Counties. In those counties, 84 percent of new residents live in cities, not unincorporated areas.
County populations: Net migration
Net migration—the difference in the number of people moving in and the number moving out—was responsible for 80 percent of the state’s population growth of 61,000 last year. The number of counties seeing positive net migration has increased by 50 percent since 2011.
Net migration was evident in 82 of Tennessee’s 95 counties and played a large factor in the population growth of 70 counties, according to county-level data from the Census Bureau.
By comparison, 77 counties grew in population from 2016 to 2017, and an average of only 52 counties saw annual gains between 2010 and 2015.
“We’re seeing counties with positive net migration run nearly the length of the state,” Kuhn said. “Counties inside the more populous metro areas are drawing greater numbers of new residents, but smaller rural counties are seeing increases as well.”
The state’s two largest counties experienced net migration decreases last year. Shelby County recorded eight consecutive years of negative net migration, with the number of residents leaving the county outpacing those moving in by 38,355. Despite strong international migration, Davidson County experienced net migration losses of 2,881 people in 2017 and 663 last year.
County populations: Natural change
The state’s pickup in net migration was partially offset by rising deaths and decreasing births.
Natural change—the difference between births and deaths—contributed 12,215 new residents to the state’s overall gains in 2018 but has decreased by 5 percent annually since a peak of almost 20,000 in 2012.
The number of counties with negative natural change increased from 57 in 2011 to 64 in 2018. Of the state’s 77 rural counties, 58 had negative natural change compared to just 25 percent of urban counties.
“The increase in the number of deaths recorded in the state is primarily a result of a growing senior population,” Kuhn said. “But we’ve also seen birth rates sliding steadily downward all across the state. This will leave the state more reliant on net migration for future population growth, which is less predictable than births and deaths.”
Two counties represented exceptions to the statewide trend: positive natural change since 2010 in Shelby County (46,461) and Davidson County (38,965) have helped both counties log net population increases.
About the data
The Census Bureau’s Population Estimates Program produces annual population estimates of the nation’s territories, states, counties, and cities. The 2018 population estimates for Tennessee counties can be explored in more detail through a new dashboard developed by the Tennessee State Data Center on both desktop and mobile devices.
The Tennessee State Data Center is a cooperative program funded by the State of Tennessee in partnership with UT and the US Census Bureau. Its mission is to provide efficient access to census data and products, training, and technical assistance to data users; to report feedback on data usability to the Census Bureau; and to respond to state and local government data needs and operational issues.
Tim Kuhn (865-974-6070, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Erin Hatfield (865-974-6086, email@example.com)