Census: Brunswick County Dropped From Wilmington MSA

By J. Elias O'Neal, posted Mar 19, 2013

U.S. Census population counts for metro Wilmington will no longer include Brunswick County as a result of new population shifts in the county and federal guidelines for demography.

The U.S. Office of Management and Budget, which sets and revises the removal and addition of counties and cities for 381 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) across the country, has redefined the Wilmington MSA, removing Brunswick County and lumping it with the Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach, S.C. MSA.

The removal took effect in February, according to a U.S. Office of Management and Budget news release.

The Wilmington MSA will now consist of New Hanover and Pender counties with Wilmington serving as the principal city.

With the addition of Brunswick County to the Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach, S.C. MSA, that area’s population spiked by 17,820 residents between April 1, 2010 and July 1, 2012 – making it the 133rd-largest metro in the country with 394,542 residents, according to census records.

Ari Astles, a spokesman with the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, said in an email Monday when a county has multiple urban areas, the county is added to the MSA that accounts for the largest portion of that county’s population.

Under 2010 OMB standards, an urban area contains at least 5,000 people within a county of at least 10,000 people.


Brunswick County has several urban areas. Two of its three largest population clusters are in the southern portion of the county, close to South Carolina. The census states that 20,279 Brunswick County residents – from the state line as far as Shallotte - live in the Myrtle Beach-Socastee urban area, and 11,226 people live in the Oak Island urban area, which includes St. James and Southport. The area containing Leland, Navassa and Belville has a combined population of 19,636 and is considered part of the Wilmington urban area. 

Astles said because the Myrtle Beach-Socastee area of Brunswick County posted the highest population, the OMB removed Brunswick County from the Wilmington MSA and added the county into the Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach, S.C. MSA.

The deletion process of counties from certain metro regions happens every ten years after the official census count.

More than 25 metro areas across the U.S. were affected this year, according to census data.  

With about one-third of the region’s population missing from census estimates, the new Wilmington MSA is now the 175th-largest metro area in the country with an estimated 263,429 people residing in the two-county area between April 1, 2010 and July 1, 2012 – a 3.2 percent increase from 254,884 residents recorded in the official 2010 census, according to federal estimates.

New Hanover County added 6,553 people, bringing its new population estimate to 209,234 residents – a 3.2 percent increase, according to census estimates.

Brunswick and Pender counties also posted impressive population gains and were ranked the sixth- and eighth-fastest growing in the state, respectively.

Brunswick County grew by 4.5 percent between April 1, 2010 and July 1, 2012, bringing the county’s overall estimate to 112,257 – up from 107,431 residents. Pender County’s population sits at an estimated 54,195 – a 3.8 percent hike from 52,203 residents in April 1, 2010, according to census records.

In 2010, the Wilmington MSA was the 139th-largest metro in the U.S., boasting more than 362,000 residents.

Had Brunswick County, which was ranked the 89th-fastest growing county in the country last year, remained within the Wilmington MSA, demographers estimate the region’s population would have exceeded 400,000 residents by the 2020 census.

Area brokers seemed shocked about the removal of Brunswick County from the Wilmington MSA, but say the region’s growth and quality of life will continue to lure retailers and business to the region.

Hansen Matthews, partner and principal broker with Wilmington-based Maus, Warwick, Matthews & Company, said Monday the drop is going to make it difficult to convince national retailers and businesses to establish new stores or divisions in the area. 

“From regional and national chains, we take a hit because they look at our statistics and all of sudden we have to explain the area to them,” Matthews said of potential retailers eyeing the region for expansion.  “Anytime you have to explain something at first glance to a national or regional retailer, it’s a negative.”

Nicholas Silivanch, vice president of retail leasing and acquisitions with Wilmington-based Coldwell Banker Commercial Sun Coast Partners and principal broker with Team Silivanch, agreed, adding that now the recruiting process could take longer, but would not be impossible.

“It just becomes another step in the process,” Silivanch said.

He said northern Brunswick County residents in places like Leland and Southport are more likely to shop in Wilmington, which could give the immediate Wilmington area a population and income boost that retailers find desirable when looking to add stores or expand businesses.

Matthews said despite the deletion of Brunswick County, the county will always be considered a part of greater Wilmington. He, along with other brokers, said it will not affect how they recruit and retain area businesses and retailers.

“The people we want to attract are going to be same, no matter if they link us with another MSA,” Matthews said. “We’re going after the same people we would have all along.”


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