Hmong presence increases in county, state 

Catawba County’s region has one of the largest Hmong populations in the nation, and new census data reports that those numbers are holding steady.

From 2000 to 2010, the Hmong population in Catawba County has grown by about 1,000 people, and there are about 3,000 Hmong currently living in the area, according to census data. The Hmong population makes up about 2.1 percent of the total population in Catawba County and makes about 60 percent of the total Asian population county wide.

Catawba County, along with neighboring Burke County, makes up the largest Hmong population in the state and is one of the top four Hmong population centers in the nation, said Tom Bell, GIS analyst for the Western Piedmont Council of Governments.

Bell said numbers have remained fairly constant due to an influx of Hmong people from the twin cities and California moving to this area. He said while some Hmong families have relocated outside the Hickory Metro area, incoming Hmong from other population centers in the nation have helped numbers balance out.

“From 2000 to 2010, there has been a big move of Hmong families from the southern portion of the town of Longview over to around the Oxford area,” Bell said. “But you are seeing some move here from (Minnesota) and California. They come to this area to sort of get away from urban problems. This is seen as an area of refuge to them.”

North Carolina is one of four states with significant Hmong populations, and Minnesota, Wisconsin and California also have a large population of Hmong people living within its borders. While Hmong from larger cities are moving to Catawba County to escape “urban problems,” Bell said education is the main reason for Hmong families leaving the Catawba County area.

“We are the only metro that doesn’t have the public four-year university,” Bell said. “The younger Asian people in the Hickory Metro have a much higher college achievement rate than whites even. They are going away to college, and that’s where the employment is.”

The Hmong population started coming to the United States mostly from Laos in Southeast Asia starting in about 1975, said Pao Lee, president of the Hmong Southeast Puavpheej, Inc. based in Hickory. Lee said the older Hmong population liked the rural areas in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia because the landscape and nature reminded them of home.

“The textiles and furniture industry attracted the Hmong people here,” said Pao’s wife, Pa, adding that the Hmong people started working in the manufacturing industry.

Despite an increasing population, Pao and Pa agreed that the Hmong families are extremely closed.

“If one family leaves and another comes to the area, we have a general idea of about how many families we have here,” Pa said. “We are a tight-knit group.”

The Hmong population has also grown state-wide. Census data shows about 10,864 total Hmong in North Carolina, which is about a 36 percent increase from 2000. According to U.S. Census data, the Hmong population is the fifth most prominent Asian race in the state.

For more information or statistics from the 2010 census, visit