Population rankings may not be so much about dollars as sense — a sense of pride. It’s nice to be able to say yours is one of the 10 largest cities in North Carolina, but because more than one government agency estimates population, 11 cities legitimately can claim that distinction. The U.S. Census Bureau says Greenville is No. 10, with 79,629 people in 2008 to 11th-place Jacksonville’s 76,233. But the N.C. Office of State Budget and Management puts Jacksonville 10th — with 81,873 residents versus Greenville’s 81,092.
Greenville’s growth of late has been fueled by East Carolina University and a major medical center, while Jacksonville, home of the Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune base and New River air station, has benefited from an increase in military personnel and their families. Eastern North Carolina will gain about 11,477 Marines and sailors by 2012. Including family and other newcomers drawn by the military, the increase will mean about 61,000 new residents in Onslow and six nearby counties.
Of course, that growth is a two-edged sword. Businesses benefit, and the military economy is more recession-resistant, says Jim Reichardt, director of Jacksonville Onslow Economic Development. But the influx requires additional infrastructure, including schools, roads and utilities. Still, he welcomes Jacksonville’s spot in the top 10. “Any time there is something positive, it’s good.”
State demographer Jennifer Song says the difference between the state and federal estimates is due to timing and different methodology. Her population estimate for Jacksonville is higher because she used more recent figures for service personnel living in barracks. One reason states do their own estimates is they can get data that is more recent than that used by the feds. The gap between the two estimates should narrow in little more than a year when the 2010 census figures for cities and towns are released. The state will use that data as a base for its 2010 estimate.
Wanda Yuhas, executive director of the Pitt County Development Commission in Greenville, doesn’t mind sharing the No. 10 spot with Jacksonville. “If we were losing population, we would be concerned. As long as we’re stable or growing, we’re not concerned about the ranking.”
A poor showing
One of Rocky Mount’s nicknames is “The City on the Rise,” and according to one national magazine, it has almost nowhere to go but up. Forbes named it one of the nation’s 10 most impoverished cities, based on 2008 U.S. Census Bureau data, including per capita income, unemployment and the percentage receiving food stamps and public health care. Boosters say the magazine used old statistics that don’t paint an accurate picture of the city today. Earlier this year, Forbes ranked Rocky Mount 119th among the 179 best small metro areas for business and careers and seventh in the cost of doing business.