This is no longer Mayberry. The truth is, we haven’t been for some time. But the recession has accelerated the process of reshaping North Carolina. The metropolitan areas are struggling to keep up with the fast-paced growth as they attract people from around the state and the country. Meanwhile, the countryside is emptying out, a sad panorama of empty store fronts and padlocked plant gates. Since the 2010 census, about half of North Carolina’s 100 counties have lost population, said Allan Parnell, a demographer with the Cedar Grove Institute for Sustainable Communities. He spoke at a forum last week at N.C. State University that was focused on the political process of drawing lawmakers’ district boundaries. The county that has lost the most population was Rockingham County, home of Senate leader Phil Berger.
It is not only the tobacco-growing areas, Parnell said, but it is the old textile and furniture towns of the Piedmont and the west, that are suffering. The state is projecting that by 2020, the state’s 50 smallest counties will have 13 percent of North Carolina’s population, while Wake and Mecklenburg counties alone will have more than 21 percent of the population.
It is easy to forget that Charlotte is now larger than Detroit, Seattle, Denver or Boston, and that Raleigh is now larger than Miami, Minneapolis, Cleveland or New Orleans.
That rapidly changing demographics has major implications when the legislature sits down in 2021 to draw the new district lines for Congress and the legislature. It is among the reasons that bipartisan groups are pushing for an independent redistricting effort.