Commentary

Christensen: You’re not from around here, are you?

rchristensen@newsobserver.comNovember 23, 2013 

— There is a lot of political talk about how North Carolina is “broken,” but something must be going right because the Tar Heel State is one of the one of the nation’s hot spots.

How hot? Only Texas and Florida had more net immigration than North Carolina during the past decade, says Rebecca Tippett, director of Carolina Demography, a program based at the Carolina Population Center on the University of North Carolina campus. That is a net migration of 2 million people who have moved into the state since 1990.

North Carolina once had the highest native-born population of any state in the country – hence the words of the Carolina fight song: “I’m a Tar Heel born, I’m a Tar Heel bred. And when I die, I’m a Tar Heel dead.”

Today 42 percent of Tar Heel residents were born outside the state, Tippett said. That figure was 30 percent in 1990 and 15 percent in 1950, 10 percent in 1930, and 5 percent in 1910.

They have come from every state and from all over the world. But in the past decade the majority have come from New York (440,000), Virginia (300,000) and Mexico (250,000), Tippett said.

“You can actually see this migration in movement by paying attention to the license plates,” said James Johnson, UNC Kenan-Flagler professor of strategy and entrepreneurship. “You can see all the snowbirds heading South.”

Johnson and Tippett spoke last week at a roundtable for journalists sponsored by the University of North Carolina Program on Public Life.

Politicians reflect influx

North Carolina grew at about twice the national average in the first decade of this century.

It’s important to keep this large influx of people in context.

North Carolina has gone from a state that was largely native-born to a state that now looks pretty much like the rest of the country. North Carolina’s non-native population was ranked 28th among the states in 2010, or at about the national average, according to the Virginia Center for Politics.

The great influx is reflected in who we elect to political office.

• Gov. Pat McCrory is a Ohio native, although reared partially in North Carolina.

• State House Speaker Thom Tillis is a Florida native.

• State Senate leader Phil Berger is a native of New York, although reared in Virginia.

• U.S. Sen. Richard Burr is a Virginia native.

• U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, although a North Carolina native, was reared in Florida.

• U.S. Rep. David Price was born in Tennessee, and U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers in Michigan.

• Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane is a native of Washington, D.C., raised in Virginia.

I-85 sees growth

Johnson said people talk about the South rising again, but North Carolina is really just part of the South. More than 70 percent of the growth in the South is in four states: Texas, Florida, North Carolina and Georgia.

In North Carolina, 70 percent of the growth is occurring along the Interstate 85 corridor between the Triangle and Charlotte. “It is highly concentrated growth,” Johnson said.

The rural areas are dying. There are 33 North Carolina counties that are losing population.

“The only viable business in those counties is the undertaker,” Johnson quipped.

In 2000, for the first time, a majority of North Carolinians lived in incorporated areas.

The projections are that by 2050, the region stretching from the Triangle to the Triad to Charlotte will be one huge megalopolis. North Carolina is projected to surpass Michigan, Ohio and Georgia, and to be breathing down the neck of Pennsylvania by 2030.

This I-85 corridor will more closely resemble the Boston-to-Washington corridor than Mayberry.

Christensen: 919-829-4532; Twitter: @oldpolhack

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