Our recent study of subway-to-subway migration found that the largest population influx hotspots are still largely concentrated in the Sun Belt. Just looking at an overall top 10 list of metros that get the most net population at the expense of others doesn’t tell the full story, because such a list is predictably skewed toward more sprawling metro areas with larger populations, with the exception from smaller ones.

While the largest subways in the US have seen the greatest absolute population growth, some smaller metro areas have also experienced significant growth thanks to a similar set of factors: they offer greater affordability compared to local or regional population centers, while also showing great potential for job seekers, commuters and retirees. These are the metropolitan areas with a population of less than 1 million that have gained the most from subway-to-subway migration:

#1 – Columbia, SC

Columbia was first on our list with an average of 15,077 net residents gained annually from subway-to-subway migration. And while the metro is losing net population in exchanges with Charlotte, NC, it is gaining population from other South Carolina metro areas, such as Charleston and Greenville. Here, the annual net inhabitants represent 1.8% of the metro population of approximately 830,000 as of 2020.

South Carolina’s capital attracts movers in several ways. First, it provides jobs in high-value industries – such as technology, IT, healthcare, aerospace and advanced manufacturing – for university graduates and job seekers. However, it also combines the dining, shopping and entertainment options typical of larger metros with a village feel and a multitude of nature trails. As a result, Columbia is a premium option for prospective residents who want to get the best of both worlds.

#2 – North Port, Florida.

As in our previous study, Florida dominated the list of the top 10 smaller subways that residents gained from subway-to-subway migration: the state took half of the list with five entries between #2 and #7.

The highest-ranked metro in Florida was North Port, with an annual average of 13,773 residents. While the subway lost residents to some subways in the state, including Orlando and Punta Gorda, the influx of population from Tampa and Miami—alongside New Yorkers seeking sunny weather—meaned North Port ranked second to us.

Affordability and popularity as a retirement destination are among the metro’s main draws for future residents, although North Port also has a significant population of young professionals.

#3 – Cape Coral, Florida.

Cape Coral, Florida, made the list at number 3 with 13,588 annual residents obtained through immigration, narrowly surpassed by North Port. Consequently, Cape Coral’s population influx is comparable to that of North Port, as the residents it lost to Tallahassee, Florida, were offset by the influx of residents from Miami and New York City.

But the similarities between Cape Coral and North Port don’t stop there. They are both planned communities developed in the 1950s that have gained popularity as affordable destinations for movers. Cape Coral, in particular, is home to over 400 miles of navigable canals, with ample waterfront properties and recreational opportunities.

#4 – Port St Lucie, Florida.

The smallest Florida metro area on our list with 487,000 residents, Port St. Lucie added 11,682 residents per year — the fourth-highest number on our list. The annual influx of residents represents a remarkable 2.4% compared to the total population of the metro.

Port St. Lucie, about halfway between Orlando and Miami and about an hour north of Palm Beach, is booming in sectors such as healthcare and construction. At the same time, the growing financial and government sectors are also driving development in the center of the metro.

#5 – Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Sandwiched among the Sunshine State entries was Colorado Springs with 11,551 annual residents, earning it the #5 spot.

Unlike previous entries on the list, which received a smaller population flow from various sources, the main contributor is the residents of Colorado Springs Denver, from which it gets more than 5,500 net residents annually. Other population sources for Colorado Springs include Houston and Los Angeles.

The subway is known as a hotspot for hiking in the Rockies, although that’s far from its only attraction. Nature trails and other outdoor recreations are also easily accessible; the cost of living is relatively low; and locations are plentiful for a subway of its size.

#6 – Delta, Florida.

Back on Florida’s east coast, the Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond metro made the list with an annual net gain of 10,657 residents from other metros.

The metro encompasses several cities with less than 100,000 inhabitants each. The largest city here is Deltona, a planned residential community that has since become the most populous city in Volusia County.

In addition to Deltona, Daytona Beach is a major metro hub with its robust tourism, industry, and manufacturing. Other cities in the area also attract residents thanks to their proximity to Orlando, the main source of metro residents.

#7 – Lakeland, Florida.

The last Florida entry on our list is the Lakeland Subway, which gained 10,000 residents annually through immigration. The metro’s central location in the state, halfway between Tampa and Orlando, is evidenced by the influx of residents into the city.

Lakeland began as a railroad and farming settlement in the 19e century, and its history is reflected in the city’s main industries, including traditional agriculture, transportation, and mining. Recently, however, tourism and healthcare have become increasingly important in the local economy. The diversified economic landscape, coupled with Lakeland’s affordability, fueled the growth of the metro with the influx of population from other areas of Florida.

#8 – Spokane, wash.

Spokane, Washington, reached #8 on our list with a net population increase of 9,825 per year as residents mainly move here from other subways in the Northwest.

With significant investments in areas such as aerospace engineering, health sciences, and finance, Spokane’s economic opportunity, relative affordability and small-town feel — coupled with a vibrant downtown — likely contributed to its popularity.

#9 – Boise, Idaho

Boise, the only state capital in our top 10, reached 9e place with 9,572 inhabitants won per year.

The Boise metro area, also known as Treasure Valley, is the state’s most populous with more than 760,000 residents. Boise gets residents from several other West Coast metro areas, including Los Angeles; Portland, OR; and Riverside, California.

Boise has a unique economic background, combining both government employment and jobs created by computer memory maker Micron, which is headquartered in the metro. The affordability and distinctive nature of the Pacific Northwest are also likely to appeal.

#10 – Athens, Georgia.

Our list ended with Athens, Georgia, with 9,376 inhabitants per year. The annual population increase from metro-to-metro migration represents a growth of 4.4% compared to Athens’ population of just over 215,000 – the largest percentage growth on our list.

Athens is a cultural and educational hotspot with the University of Georgia and a vibrant music scene. It also benefits from being a satellite of Atlanta – which also happens to be the main source of new residents, as Athens gains more than 6,000 in net population through exchanges with the state capital.

Methodology

  • We looked at migration between metropolitan statistical areas in the contiguous United States, as determined by the US Census Bureau, excluding subways with populations greater than 1 million. For clarity and brevity, we have used the usual metro names instead of the official Census names for metro areas, with the exception of metros with two or more central cities of similar size.
  • The annual net population increase is calculated by subtracting the number of inhabitants lost to other metros between 2015 and 2019 from the number of inhabitants gained from other metros between 2015 and 2019.
  • The percentage growth in the number of inhabitants due to immigration has been calculated based on the population figures of 2020.
  • Metro to metro migration estimates for 2015-2019 were released by the US Census Bureau in September 2021.
  • Non-internal migration, as well as migration to or from places that are not part of a metropolitan area, were excluded.
  • For each of the top 10 metros, the top three sources for metro migration and the top three destinations for metro migration were highlighted.

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