NoVa Still Drives Virginia’s Population Growth


Virginia’s population surpassed 8.3 million inhabitants as of July 1, 2014, according to the latest estimates by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Policy’s demographics group. Still the nation’s 12th largest state, Virginia ranked 10th in absolute population growth in 2014.

Despite the economic slowdown caused by sequestration in the past year, Northern Virginia accounted for nearly three-fifths of the state’s population growth. Numerous localities in economically depressed Southside and Southwest Virginia continued to lose population.


biggest_gainers2As seen above, the biggest gains in absolute numbers occurred in existing population centers, especially Northern Virginia with  more modest growth in the Richmond and Hampton Roads regions. Loudoun County led the pack over the four-year period.


In terms of percentage growth, the story was very different. Two groups fared well: older, established urban areas like Fredericksburg, Alexandria, Manassas and Charlottesville showed strong growth; and counties on the metropolitan fringe like Loudoun and New Kent. Growth rate between counties and cities, says Weldon Cooper in a press release, has established “relative parity” since 2010. That represents a marked departure from the pattern that has prevailed since World War II.


Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


15 responses to “NoVa Still Drives Virginia’s Population Growth”

  1. I sorta wonder what we think we “know” from population growth.

    For instance, in Fredericksburg – there are no real “new” jobs – and certainly not 4000 people worth.

    Fredericksburg built a couple of new subdivisions – near I-95 and that along with gentrification downtown – for those who ride VRE to NoVa constitute the vast majority of the growth.

    I would posit that housing for NoVa workers – is also true in Stafford, Prince William and Loudoun.

    so NoVa has gained quite a few jobs that have not only shown up as NoVa but also shows up as growth in the exurban counties – and cities like Fredericksburg.

    I think this is a flaw in looking a raw locality-specific population numbers without taking into account the fact that there are MSAs where job growth is not uniformly distributed across the counties in the MSA and population growth in the exurban counties if often the result of more jobs in the MSA – and not necessarily in the exurban locality gaining population.

    Henrico might be legitimate but I think looking at population alone and not having job growth can be deceptive.

    finally – if NoVa is gaining in jobs in a sequester budget world – what is the breakdown between govt and private sector jobs?

    Saw something the other day that indicated if you discount Govt jobs – Virginia ranks something like 48th in private sector job creation.

  2. Cville Resident Avatar
    Cville Resident

    Probably not a big deal to most who read, but an observation:

    If you’ve been to Lynchburg….these numbers confirm that a lot has changed in the city. One thing that I’ve picked up on is that Lynchburg no longer views Roanoke as a “place to go.” 25 years ago, Roanoke was still thought of as a larger, more cosmopolitan city that people from the Hill City would visit on a Saturday.

    As Lynchburg has grown, its residents don’t feel the need to go to Roanoke for dining-shopping-arts. We know a couple in Lynchburg who has told us that they are their friends don’t see any need to go to Roanoke like they did 20 years ago. Lynchburg has everything that Roanoke has.

    I imagine that, as the numbers show and I’ve seen with my own eyes, Lynchburg’s growth has probably lead to some of Roanoke’s economic stagnation. As fewer and fewer people feel the need to drive to Roanoke, that means less money to circulate in the Roanoke economy.

    1. I was motivated to go look at the top employers in the Lynchburg MSA:

      1. Centra Health
      2. Babcock & Wilcox Nuclear
      3. Lynchburg City Schools
      4. Bedford County School Board
      5. Wal Mart
      6. Areva NP Inc.
      7. Campbell County Schools
      8. City of Lynchburg
      9. J. Crew Outfitters
      10. Central Virginia Training Center
      11. GNA Corporation
      12. Amherst County School Board
      13. Food Lion
      14. Central Virginia Community Services
      15. Kroger
      16. Harris Corporation
      17. Lynchburg College
      18. BGF Industries Inc.
      19. County of Bedford
      20. Central Virginia Community College

      and here is Roanoke:

      1. Carilion Clinic
      2. Roanoke County Schools
      3. Roanoke City Schools
      4. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
      5. Kroger Stores
      6. HCA Virginia Health System (Lewis Gale)
      7. Wells Fargo Bank
      8. City of Roanoke
      9. Wal Mart Stores
      10. Franklin County Schools
      11. County of Roanoke
      12. Norfolk Southern
      13. Allstate Insurance Company
      14. M.W. Manufacturers (Ply Gem Windows) in Rocky Mount
      15. Yokohama Tire Corporation
      16. Botetourt County School
      17. Advance Auto Parts
      18. U.S Postal Service
      19. U.P.S.
      20. Solstas Lab Partners

      it’s always been my contention if you want to take the private-sector measure of a given MSA – you would subtract out the Fed, State, Local jobs as well as the health care jobs – and see what you have left.

      and then if you ranked the top 20 places in Virginia for private sector jobs – on a per capita basis – what would you get?

      I think it would be a very different number than total population or even totlal jobs…

      1. Larryg- I do agree with that measure, but then where does that put Charlottesville? Latest figures show dynamic growth, and job growth, but how much is private versus public? The real job growth in Cville seems to be tied, somewhat, to an explosion of new hotels and retail. It does seem that here in Lynchburg there are fewer positive job announcements than ever. The only bright spots seem to be at Liberty and the reopening of a meat processing facility that was resurrected by a Charlottesville resident. We are still a long way from being able to leverage our higher education sector the way that Charlottesville and Blacksburg have done, but it seems like that might be one of the only baskets we have to put some eggs in.

        1. Off the top of my head – I’d admit that hotels can be attributed to both govt and private industry but in towns with Colleges and Universities the hotels and motels (and restaurants) definitely serve govt-associated “industry” especially when there are events associated with the University.

          In that regard – Government DOES create jobs very much the same a private industry does.

          and there is nothing that directly prevents the formation of non-govt colleges and Universities – either.

          I’m quite sure that Liberty in Lynchburg is responsible for quite a few motels and restaurants!

          I’m actually surprised that “free market Jim Bacon” has not seriously questioned why Govt is involved in higher Ed since it’s obvious that private Universities and Colleges do exist and the Govt actually engenders things like Big Time Sports which most private higher ed simply cannot afford!

          The “do gooders” have corrupted our culture when it comes to higher Ed.

          It’s only in America where higher Ed has big time sports even though in other countries the govt heavily subsidizes higher ED – but not for big time sports.

          oh wait.. I think I just went off on a tangent here.. my bad!

          1. I do like where you were heading, though. Jim could start an entire blog based on the dysfunction in higher ed. I do get a paycheck from it, but I find it hard to believe that the current system is sustainable.

          2. As I watched the Super Bowl on Sunday – it came to me that Big Time College sports is not going to go away and neither are the Universities that host them but more and more ordinary people will no longer be able to afford the prices and if the govt were to get out of the loan businesses – changes would be swift and certain – and we’d have Ivy League colleges for the rich and community colleges and non-sports colleges for the rest of us.

            The involvement of the govt in student loans is a disaster.. and it proves – at least to me – that people who get these loans for college or little different than folks who get payday loans – in terms of understanding the consequences of their actions.

            I’d cap the college loans at a rate about equal to what it costs for a community college. Let everyone have access to a college education – encourage it – but let’s not pay full-boat for gold-plated college.

            It’s ironic that we have this fiscal ignorance in play in the seeking of “higher education”.

            we are so screwed up – no wonder the country can’t balance it’s budget.

  3. Hill City Jim Avatar
    Hill City Jim

    Lynchburg growth? Its all here.

    LU, by law doesn’t report employment numbers to the VEC. Outside of LU and secondary jobs (10,000) there is not much going on here. Population growth is LU students, LU staff and LU grads that hung around. Centra growth due to the fact that independent doctors and their staff sold out to Centra to get under the Centra tax exempt status, removing millions from the tax rolls. B&W and AREVA in a dying nuclear business cutting back. Genworth’s 1500 employees may be in trouble, awaiting next earnings report in 2 weeks. And the state wants to close the Lynchburg Training Center, 1300 jobs.
    Let me see, that leaves the over-staffed schools, government and Wal-Mart.

    1. yup. but I don’t think Lynchburg is that different from quite a few smaller cities in Va and other states.

      by the time you subtract out the govt jobs and health care – it’s pretty sparse.

      WVA has coal. We have govt jobs. Last year, Virginia was ranked 48th nationally for economic growth, ahead only of Maryland and the District of Columbia, which ranked 49th and 50th, respectively.

  4. Blackbird Fly Avatar
    Blackbird Fly

    Richmond should also be in your Ten Biggest Gainers according to the US Census: ; This only had an estimate up to 2013, but even the gain from 10-13 was 9867 and the same growth rate applied to one more year would make Richmond growth since 2010 likely around 13,000.

    1. You’re absolutely right — Richmond edged out Stafford County by a hair. Thanks for the catch. I’ve corrected the table in the original post.

  5. Blackbird Fly Avatar
    Blackbird Fly

    I appreciate it!

  6. Cville Resident Avatar
    Cville Resident

    Anyone catch that Norfolk Southern is moving all of its white collar jobs out of Roanoke? Moving them to Atlanta and Norfolk.

    Jim Bacon looks like a prophet more and more each day. We’re moving to the era of the megalopolis….the economy is going to be centered in enormous urban areas…..governments need to plan for it. The days of small cities are numbered.

    larryg….It’s interesting to read your take on looking at an area’s “largest employers.” I suppose there’s some utility in that.

    However, I would make this warning about using those numbers: So many people today work remotely. I attended a seminar recently that said up to 7% of Charlottesville’s working population works remotely. I know of an executive who I’m sure is counted as “employed” in SanFrancisco if you looked at SanFran’s “20 largest employers”, but he lives one street over from me. He’s in SanFran 2 days a week, and he lives in Charlottesville the rest of the week. I can’t help but think that remote work is true in the urban crescent (perhaps moreso). Just something to think about….

    1. re: working remotely

      yes. I sort of touched on that when I pointed out that typically the exurban places will have population – but the jobs are in the core areas and they commute there – and perhaps it should be added – “or they work remotely”.

      so are these things true:

      1. – population alone in an exurban area in the 21st century does not mean there are jobs where people actually live – they may be commuting or working at home.

      2.- if 1. is true – what information are we gaining when looking at just population?

      3. – if 2. is true – will looking at jobs that are not govt and not health related, and not commute or remote tell you anything about the economy of a particular area?

      The census concluded long, long ago that it’s all about regional economies – MSAs that have intertwined economies, jobs and housing.

      and I’d argue that perhaps not everyone is “moving back” to the core – but that they generally allocated in the MSA – to include the exurban regions.

      In other words – I don’t think we really get an accurate picture of MSA regional economies if we slice and dice them up into individual counties and cities as if they are disconnected, stand-alone, and not intertwined.

      so a “list” of cities, towns, counties in the order of their population that does not recognize their MSA relationship is .. a little bit what I call “sound-bitish” because it walks and talks like it is true information – but it, can, in fact, be misleading…

      i.e. – in a rank list that includes Fairfax, Arlington, Loudoun, Prince William, Stafford and Fredericksburg – they are ALL in the SAME MSA!

      you can actually see this when you look at the top 50 jobs of a given place like Lynchburg or Roanoke or Charlottesville – they INCLUDE the govt and health care jobs in the exurban counties – as part of the Lynchburg MSA.

      that’s one of the roles of Bacon’s Rebellion in my view. Put up the data – and chew on it.. to see what truths it represents – or not!

      a geographical representation of an MSA – a static “heat” one or a dynamic one with a slider for the years would both, as they say, show with one graphic – thousands of words of data -AND it would be a far more accurate representation in my view.

      say you had such a graph for the last 20 years – for Lynchburg MSA and it ONLY showed net new non-govt, non-health care jobs.. what would it show? My premise is – not much – and that pattern would be fairly common across the state except in the larger MSAs like Washington, Hampton, Richmond – just more job activity because they are bigger MSAs.

      so I’ll shut up , now.

      1. Agreed, it would be really nice to get a fine-grained breakdown of where the population growth is occurring — by the census tract level, perhaps. Fairfax County, for instance, is a big place. Where is the growth in the county occurring? Is anyone building new subdivision tracts, or is the county densifying? If it’s densifying, where?

Leave a Reply