Fayetteville, Goldsboro and Jacksonville have recently seen their populations drop, and before the city's latest annexation, Fayetteville was the fourth fastest-shrinking city in the nation.
There is a high turnover of military families, but city leaders say they do not know why civilian residents leave or where they go.
"We find that information very interesting, but it goes against what we've experienced here," said Fayetteville city spokesman Doug Hewett.
More specifically, the city is issuing more building permits, and more development projects are taking shape.
Leaders believe the key to keeping people is a strong downtown and hope new buildings, new attractions and new parks will attract more people to the area.
They also point out that higher gas prices could make people reconsider living in the county or beyond.
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