If you’re looking to move to southeast North Carolina, you’ve probably come across three main counties: New Hanover County, Brunswick County, and Pender County.
While each region features both beach and river communities with thriving tourist economies, there are significant differences in lifestyle and culture. Read on to learn which county best fits your personality and style.
New Hanover County Culture
Charming historic downtown
New Hanover County isn’t only known for its big beachy vibes. Wilmington, NC is also home to a delightful historic downtown district along the Cape Fear River. With over 230 blocks of classic architecture, the National Register Historic District is one of the most memorable across the South. Streets lined with Victorian and colonial era homes blend seamlessly into a 2-mile stretch of shops, restaurants, cafés, shops, markets, and art galleries – all against a beautiful river backdrop.
Events & activities for everyone
The area attracts a wide range of people – from surfers and beach bums to foodies and beer enthusiasts. Wrightsville Beach boasts some of the best surfing spots along the east coast. With its nationally recognized oceanfront boardwalk, Carolina Beach is a super family-friendly living and vacation destination. The area is sprinkled with a full menu of craft breweries and restaurants of all kinds. And there is ALWAYS something on the calendar, whether you want to stroll a farmer’s market or festival, listen to live music, or participate in one of the area’s many seasonal events.
With a population over 120,000 and a 2021-2022 GDP growth of $7,543 million, New Hanover County is among North Carolina’s most flourishing counties. And this is no surprise, considering the number of new businesses that pop up in the area each month. Yet, the county also has the 9th lowest property tax rate of any county in the state. This – along with the area’s affordable housing options – makes New Hanover County an attractive place to call home.
New Hanover County is a happening place, but residents aren’t only here to have fun. Between the University of North Carolina – Wilmington and Cape Fear Community College, locals and out-of-staters have plenty of quality higher education opportunities. Plus, New Hanover County Schools is also ranked the 18th best school district in all of North Carolina.
Brunswick County Culture
Private, serene beaches
If you’ve never visited a barrier island, you’re in for a treat here along the southernmost coast of North Carolina. Brunswick County beaches are unique in that they are often two-sided – with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Intracoastal Waterway on the other. The Brunswick County island life is a bit more peaceful than the beach experience you get up in New Hanover County. In some Brunswick County towns, you aren’t even allowed to drive a car!
The privacy of island living is one of the key reasons Brunswick County is one of the state’s most desirable retirement destinations. In fact, 34% of the population is 65 years or older. Brunswick County is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise, offering activities ranging from fishing and kayaking to golfing and nature walks. And although the area gets its fair share of visitors, the tourism scene feels relatively calm.
Impressive population growth
Brunswick County has been breaking state records – currently ranked as the fastest-growing county across North Carolina (and the seventh fastest-growing in the US). Between 2021 and 2022, the population rose by a whopping 5.7% – now sitting above 153,000. Why the intense growth, you ask? Between the area’s breathtaking beaches and its recent economic development, more and more people are discovering the treasure that is Brunswick County every day.
Increasing economic opportunities
The economic development of Brunswick County isn’t going to stop anytime soon. Many people and organizations are taking advantage of the valuable opportunity to invest in the area’s growth. Several large companies – like Epsilon Advanced Materials and Industrial Reliability and Repair, LLC – will bring hundreds of new, well-paying manufacturing jobs to the area in the near future.
Pender County Culture
Like Brunswick County, the coastland in Pender County is secluded, serene, and ideally suited for avid outdoorsmen and women. It’s beaches, rivers, woodlands, trails, and parks – along with the area’s mild year-long temperatures – give nature-lovers tons of excuses to get outside for leisure, sport, and play.
Rapid business growth.
According to SmartAsset, Pender County saw the greatest business growth (9.4%) of any North Carolina county in 2022. And the county’s economic development is only going to continue rising as local organizations continue to offer valuable local incentives and resources for businesses that want to grow in the area.
Unlike the other two counties, Pender County also boasts a major agriculture scene. The primary crop? Blueberries! The region’s flat land and moist, well-drained soil make it ideal for cultivating the tasty berries. You’ll also catch Pender County farmers growing sweet potatoes, strawberries, tobacco, soybeans, peanuts, corn, and grapes.
Not only is Pender County peaceful and serene, but locals intend to keep it that way. So, while there is PLENTY to do around the county each week, high-rise buildings are not allowed and the county works hard to preserve its natural ecosystem. This makes the county particularly attractive to retirees and families who are looking for something a little more low-key.
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