Few North Carolinians would have believed it, if theyd been told 40 years ago that one day the state would have more people in it than the industrial behemoth of Michigan, with its auto industry and other manufacturing plants and the big, big city of Detroit.
North Carolina? Tobacco Road? Our place of leaf and cotton fields and open space as far as the eye can see? No way. And who wants to be Michigan, anyway, with that smog and traffic and all that?
Well, it turns out that some time this year, the Tar Heel State will indeed surpass the Wolverine State in population. North Carolina is standing, by the reckoning of the census, at nearly 9,850,000 residents, just around 48,000 fewer than Michigan, and this state is growing faster than the Mitten State (no, thats not made up).
If the trend continues, North Carolina will pick up congressional seats in the U.S. House following the next census, and it will stand as the ninth most-populous state.
With a steady decline in manufacturing and the crisis in the auto industry, Michigan has obviously hit some hard times. Detroit has filed for bankruptcy.
But in fairness, the state also is home to wonderful natural resources and outdoor vacation spots. In that, it shares some virtues with North Carolina. It also shares some great lakes.
But the latest figures reflect the fact that North Carolina still is seen by newcomers and potential newcomers as a place with opportunity, despite hard employment times everywhere. And the state has always been a lure for high-tech industry, thanks to the Research Triangle Park.
For our state, the influx of new residents (about 3 percent a year) needs to be an opportunity answered, with the maintenance and improvement of public education and with better infrastructure of roads and bridges, along with the development of modern transit options such as rail.
The state, in other words, has to do its part not just to draw new people but to make them glad they came.