An influx of new residents moving into the Chattanooga area boosted the population of Hamilton County last year more than three times as fast as the national average, placing Hamilton County as the fifth fastest-growing county among Tennessee's 95 counties, according to new government estimates.
The U.S. Census Bureau said Hamilton County grew by 5,655 persons, or 1.5% last year. Hamilton County outpaced the statewide growth rate and trailed only Rutherford, Knox, Montgomery and Wilson counties in the number of new residents added in each county in the year ended June 30, 2022.
The population gain for Hamilton County came even though the number of deaths in the county during the year ended June 30, 2022 (4,574) was 82 more than the number of persons who were born in Hamilton County during the same period. All of the growth in the Chattanooga area over the past couple of years has come from residents moving into the area, primarily from other U.S. states.
"For the first time in Tennessee, we've had a decrease in the natural population with deaths during the pandemic exceeding births as fertility rates have continued to decline," Tim Kuhn, director of the Tennessee State Data Center at the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, said in a phone interview. "The growth we've experienced has come from people moving into Tennessee."
🚨 New 2022 County Population Estimates just released by @uscensusbureau!— TN State Data Center (@TN_SDC) March 30, 2023
Recall Tennessee added 83K new residents in 2022. Here's how that breaks down. Widespread population increases with big gains in Rutherford, Knox and Montgomery counties. 1/x pic.twitter.com/8jPiUKEPGZ
Among the 5,592 persons who relocated to Hamilton County last year, the census bureau said 492 were from other countries and the rest came from those moving to Tennessee from other U.S. states.
During the pandemic, many people left major U.S. cities and migrated to cities or towns like Chattanooga, which benefited from both its high-speed internet service for remote work and its outdoor appeal for those wanting to maintain social distancing during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Some of the nation's most populous counties experienced significant outmigration and population declines in 2021, although new census estimates released for 2022 this week showed the patterns of population growth and decline are moving toward pre-pandemic rates in the nation's 3,144 counties.
"The migration and growth patterns for counties edged closer to pre-pandemic levels this year," Christine Hartley, assistant division chief for estimates and projections in the Census Bureau's population division, said in a new census report. "Some urban counties, such as Dallas and San Francisco, saw domestic outmigration at a slower pace between 2021 and 2022, compared to the prior year. Meanwhile, many counties with large universities saw their populations fully rebound this year as students returned."
Propelled by the growth of Nissan in Smyrna and Middle Tennessee State in Murfreesboro, Rutherford County was the fastest-growing county in Tennessee, growing nearly 2.7% in 2022. Among Tennessee's four major cities, Knox County was the fastest growing with a population gain of more than 1.6% last year.
Shelby County, home of Memphis and the state's biggest county, continued to lose residents last year with a net population loss of 6,981. Most other counties losing population were rural counties, including Bledsoe County in Southeast Tennessee and Dade County in Northwest Georgia.
But across Tennessee, Kuhn said rural counties are not losing as much population in the current decade as they did previously. Between 2010 and 2020, 30 of Tennessee's 95 counties lost population, and nearly all of those counties were small and rural. Since the 2020 census, only nine counties have lost population, including Shelby County.
In the Chattanooga region, Hamilton County remained the fastest growing county. The population gains in Hamilton County have led to a surge in building plans, especially in the unincorporated portions of the county where the number of new residential lots added last year was the second highest year in modern history.
Nationwide, the new census estimates for July 1, 2022, showed that just under one-half (48.7%) of counties had fewer than 25,000 residents, while 19.5% of counties had a population of 100,000 or more. Only 47 (1.5%) counties had a population of 1 million or more.
Over one-half of all counties (52.5%) grew between 2021 and 2022, down from 55.7% of counties the prior year. At the same time, 1,482 (47.1%) declined and 11 counties (0.3%) saw no change in population.
Chattanooga area growth
Among 16 Chattanooga area counties, the population grew in every county except Bledsoe last year.
— Hamilton, up 5,655 to 374,682
— Bradley, up 847 to 110,616
— Whitfield (Georgia), up 444 to 103,132
— Walker, up 510 to 68,915
— Catoosa (Georgia), up 406 to 68,826
— McMinn, up 812 to 54,719
— Franklin, up 695 to 43,942
— Murray (Georgia), up 140 to 40,472
— Rhea, up 525 to 33,730
— Marion, up 167 to 29,064
— Chattooga (Georgia), up 108 to 24,936
— Polk, up 99 to 17,863
— Sequatchie, up 464 to 16,909
— Dade (Georgia) down 149 to 16,081
— Bledsoe, down by 46 to 14,798
— Meigs, up 243 to 13,272
Source: U.S. Census Bureau estimates for July 2022 population compared with July 2021.
Tennessee's fastest-growing counties last year
The counties with the most population gain last year were:
1. Rutherford, up 9,417
2. Knox County, up 7,762
3. Montgomery, up 7,360
4. Wilson, up 6,545
5. Hamilton, up 5,655
6. Davidson, up 4,772
7. Williamson, up 4,606
8. Sumner, up 3,276
9. Maury, up 3,156
10. Washington, up 2,647
Source: U.S. Bureau of Census estimates for July 2022 population compared with July 2021.