COLUMBIA, S.C. — When Norma Sanchez’s family opened a small Spanish grocery store in Conway, they tapped into not only one of South Carolina’s fastest growing counties, but also the state’s fastest growing racial group by far.
More than 235,000 people identified themselves as Hispanic in the state in 2010, a 148 percent increase in the past decade, according to U.S. Census data released Wednesday.
The state as a whole added more than 610,000 people, a 15.3 percent increase, for a total of 4.6 million people. The influx makes South Carolina the 10-fastest growing state in the nation.
A good chunk of that growth was near the coast, including Horry County, where the population grew by 37 percent, adding more than 70,000 people in the past 10 years.
Sanchez’s sister and brother-in-law chose Horry County to open their store, Tienda Y Carniceria El Charro, at the height of the Great Recession a few years ago.
“The first year was very tough. We’re not complaining. We’re struggling, but we’re also going good. We get a lot of business and see a lot of new faces,” Sanchez said.
Wednesday’s release of the census data will send lawmakers scrambling to start drawing the lines for a new U.S. House district. All six existing districts saw population growth, meaning big changes should come to them, too. Lines for state Senate and House seats also will need to be redone, likely concentrating those districts in more urban and suburban areas.
And while a good bit of the growth happened along the coast — three of South Carolina’s four fastest-growing counties are near the Atlantic Ocean — almost all the state’s urban and suburban counties saw significant population increases.
Dorchester County, boosted by suburban growth from Charleston, grew by nearly 42 percent. Beaufort, Horry and York counties also saw population increases of greater than 30 percent.
Lancaster County swelled with people moving south from Charlotte, N.C., growing by more than 15,000 people and moving into the top 20 counties in population in South Carolina. Other counties that grew by least 20 percent were Lexington and Berkeley.
Columbia remained the state’s largest city, with 129,272 residents, but Charleston grew nearly twice as fast and has only about 9,000 fewer people. North Charleston is the state’s third most-populous city, while Mount Pleasant moved into fourth, adding more than 20,000 people in the past 10 years.
Greenville remains South Carolina’s most populous county, with more than 451,000 people, followed by Richland County at nearly 385,000 and Charleston County at 350,000. All 10 of the state’s largest counties in the 2000 census saw double-digit population growth over the past decade.
“Today’s census figures are another reason to get excited. People love South Carolina, and they’re moving here because there’s no better state in the country in which to live, own a business and raise a family,” said Rob Godfrey, a spokesman for Gov. Nikki Haley.
But the numbers weren’t all about growth. More than a quarter of the state’s 46 counties lost population. Four were in the rural textile regions south of Interstate 85: Abbeville, Laurens, Union and Chester. Another cluster of four sit near the Savannah River between Aiken and Beaufort — Barnwell, Bamberg, Allendale and Hampton — while the rest have large black populations and are away from the coast: Calhoun, Lee, Marion and Williamsburg.
Still, South Carolina’s growth was enough to move it up two spots to become the 24th most-populous state in the nation, jumping past Louisiana and Kentucky.
Jennifer Lorenz, 41, is one of the newcomers. She moved back to Charleston three years ago after nearly a decade in Boston to become director of communications for institutional advancement at the College of Charleston.
She loves the easier commute and the warmer winters.
“We were shoveling snow every day. You get used to it, but we both at any time were watching the news in the evening and we are seeing the reports that Boston is getting hammered. We smile because we were out there in it,” Lorenz said.
The color of South Carolina is changing, too. The nearly 141,000 new Hispanic residents in South Carolina in the past decade easily exceed the 105,000 black residents added to the state.
Hispanics now make up 5.1 percent of South Carolina’s population, though census officials acknowledge they are likely not counting some illegal immigrants. The percentage of blacks dropped from 29.9 percent in 2000 to 28.8 percent in 2010. The white population dropped about a half-percent to 67.6 percent of the state’s residents.
South Carolina also saw a big jump in the number of people who report they are two or more races. Nearly 80,000 residents checked that category in 2010, almost double the number in 2000.
Some people are struggling with the changing demographics, making it hard to be a Latino in South Carolina, said George Leone, acting executive director of South Carolina Hispanic Outreach.
“When you see something strange to you, sometimes you don’t respect it,” said Leone, who encounters people almost every day who think almost all Hispanics in the state came into this country illegally.
That’s why Sanchez works so hard to make her store a comfortable place. There is a butcher shop on site for customers whowant the freshest meat possible. The owners special-order items from countries across Latin America that customers likely can’t find anywhere else. And they have installed eight terminals to help people wire money back to their families.
“It’ gives them a sense of home,” she said. “And we’re as friendly as we can be.”