Greater Fayetteville has seen a remarkable reversal in population growth over the last 50 years. Cumberland County’s population exploded in the post-World War II years. The government said its 43 percent increase in the 1960s was the largest in any of North Carolina’s 100 counties. Construction was fast-paced as shopping developments and suburban residential subdivisions began to spread outside the Fayetteville city limits toward Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base. During the industrial development heyday of the 1970s, Cumberland County was reputed to be the third fastest growing community in the southeastern United States. Manufacturers including Kelly Springfield Tire Company, Black & Decker Power Tools, Fasco Industries, Purolator Auto Filters, Texfi Industries, Rohm & Hass and Monsanto made multi-million-dollar plant investments in Cumberland County. They employed thousands of residents with high paying jobs. More recently, Maidenform and Walmart opened large distribution facilities.
Forty years later, Kelly Springfield was absorbed by its parent company Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. Texfi went out of business, Black & Decker was closed and its hundreds of jobs went to Mexico, where the company opened a new plant. Purolator was sold to new owners and still employs a small workforce. Rohm & Hass and Monsanto are no more. Maidenform closed its distribution center in 2014. Thankfully, Walmart’s new distribution plant is still with us. Over the last 25 years, industrial and population growth have been stagnant, and in the last five years virtually non-existent, according to updated data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
In 2005, Congress passed the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Act, resulting in several new commands relocating to Fort Bragg. These include the U.S. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) and U.S. Army Reserve Command, both of which moved from Fort McPherson, Georgia. Local officials projected a significant population shot in the arm. More than 30,000 people, including field grade officers and Army civilians, were expected to relocate to the area with their families. It didn’t work out that way. Neighboring counties of Hoke, Moore and Harnett gained the Georgia transplants to a significantly larger degree than Cumberland.
When examining data from the 2010 Census and Census Bureau estimates from 2015, North Carolina counties have seen significant increases and decreases. The largest percentages of growth were recorded in the southern and central regions of the state. Brunswick County, the southernmost North Carolina county, grew by 13.48 percent, the largest rate of growth during the five-year period. Cumberland County and counties to the east and south either lost population or showed no growth. Cumberland had the smallest rate of growth of all the metropolitan areas of the state at 1.15 percent. The 2015 population estimate is 323,838, making it the fifth largest county in North Carolina.
Cynics in county government say the upside to zero population growth is no need for more schools, better roads or other new infrastructure. What they don’t like to talk about is taxes. Property values have gone down too. Greater Fayetteville hasn’t made a financial comeback as other communities have since the great recession of 2008, County Manager Amy Cannon observed in her budget message to county commissioners last spring. This year is an ad valorem property tax revaluation year. Taxable property values won’t be known until Jan. 16 when they’ll be released by Tax Administrator Joe Utley, said county spokeswoman Sally Shutt.