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Familiar Names Atop Tennessee’s List of Fastest Growing Counties in 2023

Map of Tennessee counties showing population growth from 2022 to 2023

Widespread increases pushed county populations higher across the state even as growth rates slipped slightly compared to 2022.

Forgive us if you have heard this one before – Rutherford County has added the most population among Tennessee counties according to the 2023 U.S. Census Bureau Population Estimates released on March 14th. That makes eight years running that the Midstate county, located southeast of Nashville (Davidson County), added the most population among its Tennessee peers.

Rutherford County added 6,419 people or 1.8 percent to its population over the year ending July 1, 2023 (Table 1). That was slower than last year’s 2.7 percent increase that added 9,500 people to the community’s ranks. In fact, this was the first time since 2010, at the onset of the Great Recession, that the county’s pace of increase fell below 2 percent. In fact, just three times since 1980 has the county experienced a growth rate below that mark.

Table 1:  Top 10 Tennessee Counties in Numeric Growth: July 1, 2022, to July 1, 2023
Rank County 2022 Population 2023 Population Change
1 Rutherford 360,682 367,101 6,419
2 Knox 495,380 500,669 5,289
3 Hamilton 374,602 379,864 5,262
4 Wilson 158,593 163,674 5,081
5 Davidson 707,351 712,334 4,983
6 Montgomery 234,899 239,872 4,973
7 Sumner 203,721 207,994 4,273
8 Williamson 260,738 264,460 3,722
9 Maury 107,996 110,760 2,764
10 Loudon   58,244   60,591 2,347

1Source: Vintage 2023 Population Estimates, U.S. Census Bureau, 2024

Knox County (Knoxville) and Hamilton (Chattanooga) counties were second and third on this year’s list with both adding just under 5,300 people in 2023. That was followed by a slew of Middle Tennessee counties in the Nashville Metro area including Wilson, Davidson (Nashville), Sumner and Williamson. Montgomery County (Clarksville) slotted in at sixth with an increase of 4,973 people.

Nine counties on the 2023 list also showed up in 2022. Loudon County was back as the tenth fastest growing, replacing Washington County (Johnson City) in northeast Tennessee that had previously held that spot.

Tennessee’s Widespread Increases Among Highest in the Nation

Across the state, 90 of the state’s 95 counties recorded population increases in 2023. That mark is up from last year when 81 of the state’s counties added population and higher yet than 2021 when 72 counties saw increases. Such widespread gains among counties haven’t been observed in Tennessee since the mid-1990’s when that mark was matched three times (1993, 1996 and 1997). 91 counties added population in 1995 during the decade that saw Tennessee’s largest and fastest growth in the state’s history.

This year’s broad increases were noteworthy when compared to the national level where 60 percent of counties added population last year. 95 percent of Tennessee counties grew in 2023. That ranked fourth among all states that included fast-growing Florida and Idaho (Table 2).

Table 2:  Top Five States with the Highest Proportion of Counties Experiencing Population Growth
State Counties with 2023 Population Increase Total Counties in State Share of Counties with Population Increase
Delaware 3 3 100.0%
Florida 64 67 95.5%
Idaho 42 44 95.5%
Tennessee 90 95 94.7%
Connecticut1 8 9 88.9%

1Connecticut planning regions serve as county-equivalents for population estimates

The new data also showed another acceleration in the rate of increase among the state’s rural counties in 2023. Together they grew at a 1.4 percent annual rate, adding 37,416 people in one year. That was up from 2022’s 1.3 percent clip. Growth in rural counties has outpaced urban counties each year this decade. But, outright population increases among the state’s urban counties (+105,902) remains higher than their counterparts (+94,496).

Wilson (+5,081, 3.2 percent) and Maury (+2,764, 2.6 percent) led growth among Tennessee’s rural counties. In total, 74 of 78 rural counties gained population in 2023, up from 65 in 2022. Of the four rural counties that lost population last year, one of those (Wayne) was related to shifting prison populations at the Turney Center Industrial Complex and not an outright household population decrease. The other three, Lauderdale, Haywood and Lake counties on the state’s western edge, have experienced population declines every year this decade.

Shelby (Memphis), the state’s most populus county, lost an additional 6,315 residents in 2023 according to the new figures. That continues a trend that started in 2012 which has shown slow declines reported in all but one year.

Net Domestic Migration Driving Population Increases

The difference between the number of people moving into and out of a county from other domestic locations, including other Tennessee counties and other states is called net domestic migration. State-level numbers reached a record high of 83,818 people in 2022. Those numbers dipped somewhat in 2023 with 63,471 more people moving into Tennessee counties from domestic locations. An additional net gain of 13,054 people was reported as the result of migration to and from international locations.

Domestic migration was the predominant source of population gains in 88 of the 90 counties that saw a population increase in 2023.

Figure 1:  Key Indicators for Tennessee Counties from Vintage 2023 Population Estimates

The noteworthy exception was Davidson County which experienced a net domestic migration decline of 3,581 people. The Census Bureau has reported something similar happening in the Tennessee capital every year, with one exception, dating back to 2016. International migration (+4,293) and a natural increase resulting from births outpacing deaths (+4,390), still netted the county an increase of nearly 5,000 people. But this still leaves the county of 712,334 below its reported 2020 Census population of 715,884. Squaring that 3,500 person decrease with the 45,000 housing units that have been authorized across the county between January 2020 and December 2023, remains challenging.