A "Hall Analysis" of Gastonia as a Market for Buy&Hold Rentals

38 Replies

    Hey Everyone,

    There has been some good discussion about Gastonia lately, particularly in this thread started by @Johnny Szeto. While there has been some excellent discussion and some anecdotal evidence shared by @Tyler Watts, @Ruben Guerrero and @Brian Orr amongst others.

    To get some more facts on the table, I thought I'd take a deep dive and make an analysis of Gastonia using the method outlined by @Brandon Hall   in this seminal blog post on how to analyze a city for underlying economic and demographic fundamentals.

    You'll want to download the reference documents and have them handy as we walk through this. I will primarily reference the 2016 report. I will reference the page numbers of the PDF document, not the page numbers printed on the report itself. They differ. Additionally, the methodology for the analysis will be chronological as laid out in the "Hall Method" defined in the blog post.

    Gastonia CAFR 2015 (year ending June 30, 2015)

    Gastonia CAFR 2016 (year ending June 30, 2016)

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    Introduction

    • Population Growth
      • Page 62 - "The current population growth has been fairly stagnant. The current year estimated population per the United States Bureau of the Census is 73,698. This estimate is up by 1,957 from the 2010 Census number of 71,741."
      • It is notable how the population increased 2007-2010 as the employment rate began to climb only to drop in 2011 and then start to slowly rebound in connection with a sustained reduction in unemployment.
    • Economic Growth
      • Page 17 - Oddly, the report makes no attempt to discuss or forecast economic growth in Gastonia, rather they discuss economic growth in NC more generally.  This cannot be interpreted as a good sign.
      • Page 24 - it is only noted that "Gastonia has experienced some return of positive economic growth".
      • The Chamber of Commerce is having a speaker on 1 Nov 2017 to give an economic outlook for the area.  If anyone can attend and report back, that would be awesome.
      • Page 15 - The COMMERCE, INDUSTRY and ECONOMIC OUTLOOK section however lays out a number of things that are going in the city's favor economically though.  Some choice excerpts:
        • The City’s economy has benefited from its location within a major population center, its proximity to Charlotte, access to major interstate highways and Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. For many years, the primary industry in the City was textiles. However, the continuing national trend of companies relocating manufacturing facilities outside the United States has resulted in significant losses of jobs and investments in the textile industry. Over the past decade, the City’s economy has diversified its commercial and industrial base through a variety of industry, trade and tourism sectors, while the significance of the textile industry has declined. 

          --

          Gastonia has proven to be a hot economic market in 2016. Loray Mill opened Phase I of their project with over $22 million invested. Loray is boasting a 100% occupancy rate for its residential units and is most closely compared to Charlotte’s successful South End. Loray is now home to the Loray Athletic Club and Growler Pub. 

          --

          The most notable project is Gastonia’s new Franklin Urban Sports & Entertainment (FUSE) district. This visionary project is located in the former Trenton Mill neighborhood and will serve as a catalyst for redevelopment. The FUSE district will be anchored by a new multi-sport and entertainment venue that will be home to the Gastonia Grizzlies baseball team. Gastonia is in the property acquisition phase currently and will begin design in 2017. 

          --

          Gastonia Technology Park (GTP), the area’s premier business park, has transformed into a center for international businesses. The Gastonia Technology Park is full, with all available land purchased and planned for development. 

          -- 

          CaroMont Health, Inc., the parent corporation for a multi-state, integrated health care system consisting of CaroMont Regional Medical Center (the “Hospital”), physician office practices, imaging centers, outpatient centers, an ambulatory surgery center, a nursing home, occupational medicine, and hospice, maintains its principal offices in the City. The health system’s service area includes Gaston, Cleveland and Lincoln Counties in North Carolina and York County in South Carolina. 

          --

          The downtown area of the City is undergoing notable revitalization... A $10 million, 29,506 sq. ft., LEED-certified conference center with attached parking deck has become the centerpiece of downtown redevelopment.

          --

          A developing arts district is also spurring development with a $7.9 million “live-work” ArtSpace development presently in the planning stage, an artists’ center of studios and galleries located in a 30,000 sq. ft., City- owned building, a new artists supply store, and numerous private studios and galleries nearby.

          -- 

          The City and surrounding areas have been defined as a metropolitan-dominated region, with Charlotte serving as the central economic engine and employment center. Within this context, the City and Gaston County are fast becoming what economists refer to as a “regional retail center.” 

          --

          The grocery sector has been nothing short of explosive. Two new high-end grocery stores opened in 2016. Publix occupied an existing grocery store space bringing a $4 million remodel investment. Harris Teeter returned to the Gastonia market with a $7 million new shopping complex. Additionally, Lidl and WOW supermarkets have entered the Gastonia market. 

          --

      • The report also mentions "economic development" throughout the report and this is clearly it is a focus of the city leadership.  Whether they can execute on this focus area is up for us to judge with our wallets and investment dollars.
    • Unemployment
      • Page 16 - Unemployment in the City was 5.5%, higher than the County rate of 5.3%, and higher than the State rate of 4.9% and the national average of 4.9% at fiscal year-end June 2016. Unemployment in the City was 5.5% as of August 2016. The prior year rates for the City were 6.7% and 6.4% for the months ending June 2015 and August 2015, respectively. These rates are not seasonally adjusted.
      • Page 63 - “By December of 2017, the North Carolina unemployment rate is expected to be around 4.2 percent.” 
    • Diversity of Industry
      • Page 255 - Principle Employers.  The top ten list of employers in the city is a good mix of healthcare, govertment (Schools, County and City) as well as retail (Walmart), and industry (Freightlier, FKA Six Filtration, American and Efird, Pharr Yarns) and food packaging (Dole).  The city is still fairly dependent on industry, even if it has diversified since the days of being a mill town.
      • Another data set on Gastonia's employment by industry from datausa.io
    • Higher Education
      • The CAFR does not mention higher education but the city does have two colleges nearby
        • Gaston College - 5,582 enrollment
        • Belmont Abbey College - 1,495 enrollment

Financial Analysis (This is not a strength of mine so if you have any insights, please comment)

    • Schedule of Revenue, Expenditures and Changes - Page 149
      • The city took in 29 million in Ad Valorem Taxes which year over year was down slightly and as we will see later is heavily dependent on property taxes
      • 8 million USD spent on General Government; up 800k YoY
      • 28 million spent on Public Safety; up 1.5 million YoY
      • 5.5 million spent on Public Works; flat YoY
      • 5.5 million spent on Culture &Recreation; up 100k YoY
      • Page 155 - almost 400k is spent on "Economic Development" more than 50% of that being allocated to other funds but otherwise it is hard to see where Gastonia is actually spending money to foster economic development and growth.  I suppose this would show up elsewhere in specific initiatives or investments being made in infrastructure or tax benefits offered to companies.

Statistical Analysis

  • Property Taxes - Page 244
    • 26.6 million in Property Tax revenue in 2016 which is about 62% of overall tax revenue.
    • Property taxes are down since a peak in 2014.  I am not sure why.  
      • If you reference the property tax revenue for 2014 in both the 2015 and 2016 report there are different figures.  
      • Research indicates that the property values were reassessed in 2015 and property values were deemed to have declined by 2%.  Property taxes were to be re-evaluated that year but I have not found if they were changed or remained the same.  This could account for the reduction in property tax revenue since 2014.
    • The franchise tax which accounted for up to 3.7 million USD in revenue since 2007 and was all but eliminated by 2016 has been made up for with a new Utility Sales Tax which is higher in revenue (4.8 million in 2016)
    • Sales tax has also been growing since 2014 maybe giving some underlying positive indications on the economy?  I can't find that tax rates have changed much except for a new sales tax on some services in 2016
    • It is worth noting that tax revenues overall are healthy (42.5 million total) and near the peak for the 10 year reported 2007-2016.
  • Top Property Taxpayers - Page 247
    • This list has changed significantly in the last decade with 4 of the top ten dropping off the list from 2017-2016.
    • The highest taxpayer is Daimler Trucks North America but they only account for 1.31% of total assessed value in the city.
    • The top ten list has a good mix of industry, utilities, real estate investment firms and retail.
    • It is worth noting however though that the top three account for 3% of tax revenues and all are manufacturing based taxpayers.
  • Demographic and Economic stats
    • Unemployment - already covered above, trending down since 2009 but still above state averages.  Newest data available, as pointed out by @chris martin shows Gastonia unemployment to be 4.6%
    • Page 254 - Per Capita Income - Significantly down since 2007/2008 when it took a big hit and unemployment nearly tripled.  It has been growing since 2014, with the newest data available being 2015.
    • Median Age - 37 which is below the state average but I have not found historical data.  Not referenced in the CAFR
    • Population Growth - Flat or slightly growing as noted above.
    • Page 255 - Top 10 Employers - As noted above, a good mix of govt, retail and industry though manufacturing is highly represented and thus the city is dependent on these jobs.

Here are some random articles that support the case above one way or another (others have already posted some of these links, thing of this as a wrap up:

http://www.gastongazette.com/opinion/20160327/gast...

http://www.gastongazette.com/20141220/study-one-pa...

http://gastonchamber.chambermaster.com/events/deta...

https://www.charlotteagenda.com/85324/states-faste...

http://www.charlottestories.com/gastonia-just-rank...

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All in all, it's hard to paint a super compelling picture of Gastonia as a market with strong economic fundamentals to be a awesome buy and hold rental market. That said, my feeling is based on things that are happening (as leading indicators) and the promise of what's possible - along with a path of progress march west from Charlotte, I'm still bullish on Gastonia.

Maybe the case outlined above though will make you think otherwise and leave more affordable houses for me to snap up.

- Kind regards,

Josh.

"Gas House" as we call it is really growing and changing for the better. I used to live there for about a year in an apartment. You pretty much know which areas to avoid, and what time you should avoid certain areas. My living experience there was decent with low rent. I was able to save a lot that year, because as a scientist I made more than above average for the area, and I was still in a safe environment. I can see why it is sought after, because occupancy is high. I can't say anything bad about my "Gas House" experience. 

I was hoping for a bit more interaction on this thread and then my wife reminded me that I didn't even have the common courtesy to ask for another point of view or as questions based on my analysis.

Any other views on Gastonia out there?  We have a number of bulls in the forum and a coupe downers but what do you think this market as somewhere to park your monies for the medium to long term?


Spending some weeks on the MLS, it's hard to find properties listed at anything north of 1% rent to price which makes achieving reasonable returns seriously difficult without sputtering with the numbers (when considering the 50% rule).

I'm a sucker for in-depth MBA style analysis. I appreciate this. I think for this forum/audience it might be more than most can digest. I however am going to read that original article for any insights on analysis methodology. Thanks. 

I would avoid the low numbers of E. Franklin Blvd in terms of avoiding break-ins, but if you are ok with getting broken into a few times a year, you might find some good deals lol. Don't go over there near Greenview Dr either. It's almost as if they grow burglers in those apartments over there. 

Gashouse is crazy in that they do have some nice areas tucked away. If you go down Hudson Blvd and pass the McDonalds, the Bi-Lo, and then get to the light and turn right...there's a brick walled neighborhood full of mansion looking brick homes. However, if you turn left, there's a set of apartments right on the corner that looks like they get tons of break ins and other activity. I guess that's why they put the brick wall around those mansion looking homes Hahahaaahahaaa.

Hi @Paul Faryna , my focus is west of Charlotte.  The fundamentals of growth in Gaston County still look strong.  Growth has jumped the river and Belmont/Mt. Holly and westward still look like areas with long term strong potential.

Here is an update on the FUSE development, hopefully it will go forward  https://www.gastongazette.com/news/20190115/gastonia-leaders-unveil-latest-details-of-fuse-district-vision

Originally posted by @Tommy Anderson :

Hello my neighbor Josh, I live in Belmont :) There are a ton of hidden gems in this area.  Do you have properties in this area?

 Hi Tommy,

I own a number of single family homes and have partnerships in multifamily in the area.  I'm pretty familiar with Gastonia and Gaston Co at this stage.  I still think it's in the path of progress of Charlotte and a good place to be investing.

Hey guys. We are about to list a portfolio of roughly 17 single-family homes in Gastonia. If anybody would be interested in this please message me your email address and I can have our listing agent send you out a marketing packet. They are all renovated and in good shape and rented with the exception of one which needs substantial work. There's also 1 lot included.

An update on FUSE in Gastonia.

https://www.biggerpockets.com/...

By Michael Barrett
Gazette staff
Posted at 4:09 PM

Gastonia’s newest strategy for encouraging positive growth in the area just west of its FUSE District has been met with skepticism by some who fear it could displace residents by calling attention to problems with their property.

City leaders say their new West Franklin Redevelopment Plan has simply created an ‘opportunity zone’ that will foster private development within the 288 acres it covers. They say the new designation will open up new funding avenues, while letting private investors know the city has put a priority on improving the area.

“It is a roadmap on how to upgrade the areas along West Franklin that have basically fallen into disrepair and been identified as areas of abandonment,” said Richard Smith of McGill and Associates, the consultant firm that worked with the city to carve out the plan. “The goals are to promote economic growth through pub-private partnerships, to eliminate blight conditions across the target area, and to improve the quality of residential housing and the community image.”

Tammy Nix lives on the 200 block of South Vance Street, within the new zone that has been identified. She attended a Gastonia Planning Commission meeting last month when the concept was first formally presented to the public.

“There was talk about how the city would go around inspecting property, and if (homes) are not up to code, then property owners would have to get them up to code,” said Nix. If homeowners couldn’t afford to make the required upgrades, the fear is that their property might be condemned and razed, she said.

“I feel like this could potentially result in more homeless people,” she said.

‘Not big brother’

City leaders say that’s not the intent. While the goal is indeed to clean up the area, they say the new plan will follow the complaint-driven process that already guides the city’s hand on minimum housing code requirements across Gastonia.

“It’s not the city’s intent to go door to door with a squad of inspectors to every home in this neighborhood and shut them down, kick them out, and create homelessness,” said Councilman Dave Kirlin. “This is not ‘big brother’ or ‘big government’ coming down and trying to clear out all the vermin and all the bad things in the community. It’s a reinvestment tool, to bring more money into the area so it can be developed.

“That’s a very positive thing. I think there’s only good that can really come out of this.”

City Council members unanimously approved the plan during their most recent meeting. The affected area generally falls between Gaston Avenue to the north, Whitesides Street to the east, Garrison Boulevard to the south, and Bessemer City Road to the west.

One of the city’s primary goals from the beginning in creating its Franklin Urban Sports and Entertainment District has been to establish a connection between downtown and the Loray Mill Historic District farther west. Assistant City Manager Quentin McPhatter said the newly created redevelopment zone will help to achieve that.

“We’re looking at various tools to foster private development in this area,” he said. “In particular, this sends a strong market signal that we are seeking to revitalize this area.”

A revitalized community

Smith said within the 288-acre zone, the city will be able to put an enhanced focus on housing rehabilitation, code enforcement, and structural and environmental assessments, while also offering more construction incentives and potential façade grants to help remove blight.

“The advantages for existing property owners out there are that they’re going to get a revitalized community, with improved properties and increased property values as a result of this redevelopment planning area,” he said. “You have a lot of boarded up structures in that area, and this will help to remove areas of blight and concern.”

McPhatter said complaints that would bring more attention from the city might involve things such as lack of maintenance on windows and doors, structural defects, cracks in walls, abandoned mechanical and electrical systems, and conditions that could endanger life by fire.

“We’re not requiring people to have nice flowers in their front yard,” he said. “Our criteria for blight is pretty much what you see at any unmaintained property.”

It’s also not the city intent to buy up or seize property, McPhatter said.

“Our goal is in fact to put property back on the tax rolls and not to condemn multiple properties within this respective area,” he said.

Kirlin acknowledged there could be some unintended consequences as a result of the city’s new focus.

“There may be some people living in substandard housing who could possibly have to move if a complaint is registered that they are living in conditions that are uninhabitable,” he said. “But this happens throughout the whole city.”



Josh, thanks for the great initial analysis and continued follow-up.  I have pasted a table with some of the key metrics you highlighted in in your analysis, with the addition of data from the 2017 and 2018 CAFR reports.

Couple of my personal observations from reading through the 2017 and 2018 reports:

1. Gaston technology park is now planning to expand.

2. FUSE is still the center piece of Gastonia for the future.

3. Per capita income has not recovered to the pre-recession levels, however, it continues to steadily increase.

4. Owens Corning is now in the #2 spot, and very close to Daimler for the top property tax payers.  Combined Daimler and Corning make up 3.6% of the cities taxable assessed value.

2015 2016 2017 2018
population (2010 census 71,741) 72947 73698 75536 75919
gastonia unemployment rate 6.70% 5.50% 4.40% 4.50%
ad valorum taxes $29,294,143 $29,055,453 $30,120,248 $31,108,141
general governance expenditures $7,652,922 $8,432,653 $8,611,305 $8,769,056
public saftey expenditures $26,258,338 $27,929,197 $29,290,869 $30,058,429
Public Works expenditures $5,449,447 $5,497,190 $5,828,965 $5,667,571
Cultural and recreation expenditures $5,382,186 $5,467,201 $5,545,275 $5,947,833
Economic Development $95,379 $379,185 $336,563 $406,586
property tax values $29,097,588 $28,876,336 $29,966,989 $30,959,917

I would also refer those interested to the bureau of labor statistics, which has a wealth of data on the labor market.  The site has data for the Charlotte, Concord, Gastonia metropolitan area.  I have pasted a couple of charts I found that indicate strong growth for the last decade.

My conclusion is that if you were able to get into the Gastonia market in 2017, the economics of the area today should give you confidence that Gastonia is a stable market that continues to see growth.

Hi @Mark Lee

Good stuff, thanks for the updates ref the CAFR.

FUSE continues to press ahead, concrete has been poured.  Below copy paste from Gaston Gazette and Ballpark Digest.

------
By
Kevin Ellis
Gazette staff
Posted Nov 30, 2019 at 9:23 AM

Workers have officially poured the first concrete at the site that will eventually host Gastonia’s new multipurpose events complex just west of downtown.

The benchmark occurred a little less than a week before Thanksgiving, as the binding material was poured from a large hose and spread among steel reinforcing bars within the ground. It was a noteworthy step in the construction of the stadium that will serve as the centerpiece of the city’s Franklin Urban Sports and Entertainment District.

“At the intersection of Hill Street and Franklin Boulevard, that’s kind of ‘home plate corner,’ if you will,” said Gastonia Development Services Director Rusty Bost. “That’s where all the fixed seats and the seating bowl will be, along with the concession area, ticket office and all that stuff.

“That will be our main entrance into the facility, and the concrete that was poured was for some of the footings in those buildings.”

Rodgers Builders of Charlotte is serving as the construction manager of the roughly $26.2 million project, and will be bidding out the actual work to some 20 subcontractors. The plan is for the stadium to be ready for occupancy in the spring of 2021, at which time a professional independent league baseball team will begin playing games there, and other concerts and events will be scheduled.


Some types of construction are inhibited by cold winter weather, such as road resurfacing and repaving projects, due to asphalt being a very temperature-sensitive material, Bost said. But while concrete is affected by the weather, there are ways to mitigate those effects and insulate it from the cold, he said.

“So you can let it do what it has to do and still get the strength you want out of it,” he said.

That means construction at the FUSE complex will proceed at a fairly normal pace this winter, barring abnormally wet conditions, Bost said.

“The biggest issue you run into in the winter is after rain, when it takes forever to let the ground dry,” he said.

Workers will continue pouring concrete footings over the next few weeks, meaning a lot of what’s taking place will be below the ground level.

“It will probably be January before you can see steel beams coming out of the ground,” Bost said.

Residents who would like to keep track of the construction progress can log on to the city’s webcam livestream at youtube.com by clicking here.


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Downtown Gastonia Ballpark Project Underway by Kevin Reichard on December 3, 2019 in Future Ballparks, Independent BaseballFUSE Gastonia rendering

Another ballpark-centric downtown development is now underway, as the first concrete has been poured at the future location of a new downtown Gastonia (NC) multipurpose events complex, which will feature pro baseball.

The Franklin Urban Sports and Entertainment (FUSE) District in downtown Gastonia, considered part of the greater Charlotte area, is a 16-acre redevelopment project. A new multipurpose events space—the ballpark–is designed to host multiple types of events in addition to independent Atlantic League games, including concerts, soccer, lacrosse, and football. It will also come with amenities such as a 360-degree concourse, cabana suites, banquet/lounge space, a covered two-floor beer garden, and more, with a total capacity of 5,000. It’s slated to open for the 2021 season. The current cost of the FUSE redevelopment effort is now at $26.2 million, with the ballpark costing $21.5 million. From the Gaston Gazette:

The benchmark occurred a little less than a week before Thanksgiving, as the binding material was poured from a large hose and spread among steel reinforcing bars within the ground. It was a noteworthy step in the construction of the stadium that will serve as the centerpiece of the city’s Franklin Urban Sports and Entertainment District.

“At the intersection of Hill Street and Franklin Boulevard, that’s kind of ‘home plate corner,’ if you will,” said Gastonia Development Services Director Rusty Bost. “That’s where all the fixed seats and the seating bowl will be, along with the concession area, ticket office and all that stuff.

“That will be our main entrance into the facility, and the concrete that was poured was for some of the footings in those buildings.”

The FUSE effort is not an unusual one. Gastonia officials have been seeking a vehicle for downtown redevelopment for years, and in North Carolina, it’s not surprising a local municipality would seek to use pro baseball as a vehicle to guide those investments. We saw development following the construction of new downtown ballparks in Greensboro and Charlotte, and we’ve seen Kannapolis officials launch a similar downtown redevelopment plan for a new Kannapolis Cannon Ballers (Low A; Sally League) ballpark, slated to open for the 2020 season.

Rendering courtesy Pendulum Studio.

@Mark Lee

More considerations.  See the census data from the article at the bottom below.

https://www.gastongazette.com/...

By Michael Barrett
Gazette staff
Posted Dec 11, 2019 at 1:49 PM

The magnet effect of urban growth is pulling the edges of some North Carolina counties into prosperity, while leaving the far sides to play a frustrating game of catch-up.

That pattern is on full display in Gaston County, located just west of Mecklenburg County and separated from Charlotte only by the Catawba River.

Cities on Gaston’s eastern end such as Belmont and Mount Holly have seen a residential explosion over the last 10 to 20 years, and the development has even extended into the southeastern corner of the county’s largest municipality, Gastonia. But farther west, in towns like Cherryville and Bessemer City, the growth is nominal at best, and pales in comparison to what is on display 20 to 30 miles away.

It presents a unique challenge to such counties to better balance the growth, said Bob Coats, the governor’s Census Bureau liaison in North Carolina. They have to figure out how to spread resources equitably, to meet the needs of all areas of the county.

“Twenty to 30 years ago, an area like Gaston County or Johnston County (just southeast of Raleigh and Wake County), would’ve been much more agricultural,” he said. “But farms have now been converted into urban areas. That’s kind of what we’re seeing going forward, is that the amount of development already going on in Mecklenburg and Wake counties are demonstrating a pull and inciting growth within these more traditionally agricultural areas on the fringes.”

Two separate paths

With 222,846 residents as of 2018, Gaston County as a whole has seen population growth of 8.1% since 2010, and 27.2% since 2000, according to census data.

Belmont has arguably become the county’s most popular place to live, with a vibrant downtown and a close proximity to key destinations. The distance to uptown Charlotte is a mere 12 miles, while Charlotte-Douglas International Airport is less than seven miles away.


With roughly 12,500 residents in 2018, Belmont’s population has grown by 22.2% since 2010, and by 48% since 2000, according to census data.

Just a few miles north, Mount Holly also hugs the western banks of the Catawba River and was home to 16,135 people in 2008. That represents a population increase of 18.2% since 2010, and an astonishing 67.7% since 2000, the data show.

But as you go farther west on the map, residential growth drops considerably.

With 5,527 residents in 2018, Bessemer City has seen a population upturn of just 3.7% since 2010. Cherryville’s population of 6,026 people in 2018 represents an increase of less than 5% over the last decade. And in Kings Mountain, which straddles Gaston and Cleveland counties, the population has increased by only 2.7% since 2010.

Jean Mountz, the president of the Gaston County Association of Realtors, lives near Crowders Mountain on the southwestern end of Gaston County. But in the decade that she has been selling homes in a five-county region here, she’s seen the evidence of some areas outpacing others.

The average selling price of a home in Gaston County rose to $217,875 in the third quarter of this year, according to Canopy MLS and the Charlotte Regional Realtor Association. But Mountz said there's no question that the sales prices accounting for that average are heavily skewed from east to west.

“You can get more house and more land for your money in Gaston County compared to Charlotte,” she said. “But that is starting to change farther east. The Belmont area has caught on and is starting to be equal to prices you find in Charlotte.”

Importance of infrastructure

Many people moving into a new area care greatly about schools, and Mountz believes Gaston County offers quality public education from end to end. She contends that what has held areas in the western part of the county back is a lack of infrastructure, such as sewer lines and adequate road networks.

“Builders don’t like to put homes where every lot has to have a septic system, because you might need a half-acre to put septic on one lot, but a full acre to support septic on another one,” she said. “Roads are also important. The infrastructure does not make Cherryville an optimal place because you have to go through a lot of back roads before you get there.”

Road improvements are a long-term work in progress across the county. And while there have been some sewer system expansions, it’s also an expensive and slow process that typically requires developers willing to shoulder some of the costs.

The city of Gastonia alone is investing more than $30 million to expand sewer service to an area of more than 5.5 square miles, in what is known as its Southeast Sewer Project. But it is battling rising costs as a result of the development boom coming from Charlotte, said Gastonia Development Services Director Rusty Bost.

“We’re getting to the point now where the market is going faster than we can keep up with,” he said.

Planning for growth

Longtime Cherryville Fire Chief Jeff Cash, 60, also became the city manager of his hometown last year. He said there are definitely some in the community who don’t want the growth that has been seen in eastern Gaston County. But most see the benefits it would bring to the town.

“We’re so far off the beaten path, and without four-lane highway access, it’s tough, because a lot of companies would like to come here, but they need that four-lane access to I-85,” he said. “We need to expand our tax base and create more jobs. Because it’s going to come to the point where if we don’t grow, we’ll have to start cutting city services.”

Cherryville is focused now on things such as improving its parks and recreation offerings, lobbying the state for more road improvements into the city, and updating other aspects of its infrastructure, Cash said.

“We know the growth is coming, so it’s a matter of being prepared for it,” he said.

Coats, the governor’s census liaison, said planning and analysis is a challenge for every city and county, and there’s always reason for hope.

"Even for communities that have a little bit of population stagnation right now, just because that's been the story over the recent short term doesn't mean that has to be your future," he said. "A lot of cities and counties are looking at areas around them that have seen growth, and they're trying to figure out how to leverage resources to take advantage of that."

Census data for Gaston County cities and towns

Gastonia

2018 – 77,024

2010 – 71,722

Change: 7.4%

Belmont

2018 – 12,495

2010 – 10,223

Change: 22.2%

Mount Holly

2018 – 16,135

2010 – 13,655

Change: 18.2%

Cramerton

2018 – 4,422

2010 – 4,165

Change: 6.1%

McAdenville

2018 – 666

2010 – 651

Change: 2.3%

Lowell

2018 – 3,591

2010 – 3,526

Change: 1.8%

Ranlo

2018 – 3,636

2010 – 3,434

Change: 5.8%

Stanley

2018 – 3,742

2010 – 3,556

Change: 5.2%

Dallas

2018 – 4,750

2010 – 4,467

Change: 6.3%

High Shoals

2018 – 740

2010 – 702

Change: 5.4%

Bessemer City

2018 – 5,527

2010 – 5,328

Change: 3.7%

Cherryville

2018 – 6,026

2010 – 5,744

Change: 4.9%

Kings Mountain

2018 – 10,933

2010 – 10,645

Change: 2.7%