Horry County is SC’s fastest growing area, census shows, and there’s no signs of slowing

Plans for up to 1,700 new homes off Hwy. 90 corridor

The Horry County Planning Commission is considering plans for two new subdivisions off Hwy. 90 that could mean 1,700 new homes along the corridor.
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The Horry County Planning Commission is considering plans for two new subdivisions off Hwy. 90 that could mean 1,700 new homes along the corridor.

Horry County is the fastest growing county in South Carolina and one of the fastest growing areas in the country, according to the latest U.S. Census data, which shows population estimates from 2010 to 2018.

The county’s population increased from 269,291 in 2010 to 344,147 in 2018, according to the data, a jump of nearly 28 percent. Horry County added an estimated 11,496 residents just from 2017 to 2018, the data shows.

The increase in population is entirely due to migration, mostly domestic, as the data shows there have actually been slightly more deaths than births in the county since 2010.

The county stands fourth in total population throughout the state, behind Greenville, Richland and Charleston counties.

Lancaster County, which increased about 24.5 percent, and Berkeley County, which increased nearly 24 percent, were the next two fastest growing counties since 2010, according to a review of the data by The State.

The census also analyzes population growth by metropolitan area, and the Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach area is the second-fastest growing with a population increase of 27.7 percent since 2010, behind only The Village, Florida, area at 37.8 percent growth.

Leigh Kane, Horry County’s principle long range planner, said estimating current population size and future growth is a difficult process, particularly in a heavy tourist community, but the county’s population has been steadily rising since the 1970s and should continue that trend for the next 20 years.

Kane has headed the drafting of the county’s latest comprehensive plan, Imagine 2040, that will help officials make decisions about economic development, housing, public safety and many other topics through 2040.

U.S. Highway 501 and Carolina Forest Boulevard was the intersection with the fourth most crashes in Horry County in 2018. Jason Lee jlee@thesunnews.com

The plan, which hasn’t been fully adopted, includes an entire section on population, noting that the population growth has occurred further from the beach along highway corridors in Burgess, Socastee, Forestbrook and Carolina Forest.

Imagine 2040 forecasts, based on data from the S.C. Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office, Horry County’s population to grow by more than 240,000 to 584,500 residents in 2040.

The drafted plan projects population growth to increase most rapidly in the Longs, Conway East and Little River census divisions of the county.

Growth is coming, Kane said, but it’s important to make sure it’s “quality growth.”

The long-range planning helps ensure that quality growth by involving the community in land development regulations, considering current and future flood maps, monitoring the availability of public facilities and closely coordinating with other municipal and state agencies, including the S.C. Department of Transportation, Kane said.

One of those agencies is Horry County Schools, which is also closely monitoring population trends as it makes decisions about where and when to build new schools.

The district recently built five new schools — Ten Oaks, Myrtle Beach and Socastee middle schools, St. James Intermediate School and Socastee Elementary School — and still has a few schools near or exceeding the buildings’ standard capacity.

The district was increasing at a rate of more than 940 students annually 2014-2018, but saw a steep drop during the 2018-19 school year with an increase of just 131 students, including a decline in elementary student enrollment for the first time since at least 1988.

While some school attendance areas have seemed to level off, growth has continued at a rapid pace in others, particularly Carolina Forest, which added nearly 300 students this year.

District planning staff have suggested school board members consider buying land in the Carolina Forest area soon to place an additional future elementary school.

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Investigative project reporter David Weissman joined The Sun News after three years working at The York Dispatch in Pennsylvania, where he earned awards for his investigative reports on topics including health, business, politics and education.