North Carolina is a come-hither state

It's true: New Yorkers the leading Tar Heel transplants, census figures indicate

Staff WriterAugust 6, 2003 

New census numbers confirm what many people already see and hear: North Carolina is now home to an awful lot of ex-New Yorkers.

From 1995 to 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau says, about 338,000 more people moved to North Carolina from other states than moved out. That gave North Carolina the nation's fourth-highest "net in-migration" rate, behind Nevada, Arizona and Georgia.

And the flow of residents between New York and North Carolina was among the largest between any two states. More than 100,000 New Yorkers settled in North Carolina in the late 1990s, while only 20,000 people moved the other way.

That doesn't surprise Tim Karan, a Buffalo, N.Y., native who opened Buffalo Bagels in Creedmoor three years ago. Karan and his wife, Elizabeth, an occupational therapist, came to visit a friend in Wake Forest in 1997. Elizabeth Karan had a job lined up by the end of the weekend.

"Ten days later, we were riding down in a U-Haul," said Karan, who listed the Triangle's weather, low taxes, strong economy and friendly people as attractions.

Companies such as IBM, which have large operations in both states, brought some New Yorkers this way. But other people such as Karan followed friends and family who had left declining cities to find better prospects. "I watched the big automakers and the steel plants closing and everybody losing their jobs," Karan said.

The numbers, being released today, help explain why North Carolina was the ninth-fastest-growing state during the 1990s; as of last July, the state had 8.3 million residents, the Census Bureau says.

The migration numbers, estimates from the 2000 Census, don't include immigration from outside the country or population growth from births within the state.

Nationwide, 22 million people moved from one state to another in the latter half of the 1990s.

Twenty-three states had more people move out than move in, yet every state grew in the 1990s. New York lost more residents than anyone -- a net decline of 874,000 in the late '90s alone -- but immigrants from overseas and births within the state helped boost its population 5.5 percent over the decade.

Foreign immigration swelled North Carolina's population as well. In 1990, 2 percent of the state's residents were born outside the country; by 2000, more than 5 percent were foreign born.

Since 2000, the Census Bureau estimates, North Carolina has drawn more people from other countries than from other states. The state's overall population growth has slowed to about 1.5 percent a year but remains higher than the national average.

"We certainly went through a lull that first year after 9/11," said Fonville Morisey Realty agent Camille Mims, who helps people relocating to the Triangle find homes. "But we've really seen things pick up since last fall."

For decades, North Carolina was a net exporter of people who left farms and small towns for an education or jobs. The tide reversed about 1970, with the success of Research Triangle Park and Charlotte's banking industry, as well as the state's rising popularity as a place to retire.

North Carolina is still a magnet for retirees. More than 50,000 people age 65 and older moved to North Carolina in the latter half of the 1990s, helping give the state the sixth-highest net in-migration rate for people in that age group.

Resort towns such as Pinehurst offer retirees pastoral surroundings and golf nearly year-round. But the cities also lure retirees who want to be close to their children, said Rebecca Smith, sales director at Magnolia Glen, a Raleigh retirement community where half the residents are from other states.

Regina Oakland moved to Magnolia Glen from Florida last month to be close to her daughter and son-in-law. Oakland, a Brooklyn native, retired to Florida 15 years ago but decided to move north again after her husband died and her health faltered.

"This is nice here. The people are lovely," said Oakland, 80, who hasn't lost her Brooklyn accent. "I think I'm going to like seeing the change in seasons again."

African-Americans returning to their home state for jobs or to retire have added to the in-migration. Jim Johnson thought he had bought a one-way ticket out of North Carolina in 1975 when he went to graduate school in the Midwest. But by 1992, when Johnson returned to teach business at UNC-Chapel Hill, he was among a stream of blacks coming home.

"Had the racial climate not changed, I think people would have stayed where they were," said Johnson, a demographer.

While more than 919,000 people moved to North Carolina from other states in the late 1990s, about 581,000 left. South Carolina and Virginia drew the largest numbers of departing residents, but new arrivals from those states made up for the loss.

The influx of people to the state has brought new tastes and sensibilities. Carvel Ice Cream, a New York institution, will have stores in Raleigh and Cary by early next year, and Karan said he has found decent Buffalo chicken wings at Buffalo's Cafe in North Raleigh.

But Karan, who decorates his bagel shop with posters and photos from his hometown, said that during grilling season he still places monthly orders for bratwurst and knockwurst at Redlinski's Meats on Buffalo's east side.

"I honestly haven't found any place that's got a real good sausage here," he said.

Staff writer Richard Stradling can be reached at 829-4739 or rstradli@newsobserver.com.

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