People, wealth and entrepreneurship are booming. but many in Orange County struggle to afford housing, shop here and raise children out of poverty, the 2014 State of the Community report shows.
Aaron Nelson, president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, presented the seventh annual community report Thursday to hundreds of elected, business and community leaders at UNC’s Friday Center.
“You’ll get information today that we hope spurs you to action or makes you think differently or re-energizes you about what you can do in our community or the difference that you want to make,” he said.
The county’s population is growing at a faster rate than in previous decades, adding 22,571 new residents since 2004, Nelson said. Last year, the county and Hillsborough clocked a 1.9 percent growth rate, he said. The rate was 2.1 percent in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, which hit 20,000 residents this year.
UNC is growing, too. This year’s enrollment topped 29,000, with about 62 percent of undergrad and graduate students living in off-campus housing.
But the reality, Nelson said, is Orange County’s growth is only 5.3 percent of what’s happening in a six-county region that also includes Durham, Wake, Alamance, Chatham and Johnston counties. And it’s only 1.7 percent of the state’s population growth.
The county also continues to lose its black residents, who fell to 12.2 percent of the population last year, he said, but the number of Asians and Hispanics keeps climbing. Last year, those races comprised 7.3 percent and 8.2 percent, respectively, of the county’s 140,352 residents. White residents have fallen from roughly 80 percent of the population to 70.3 percent, he said.
“The story that we had been telling ourselves at the chamber was that Orange County was slowly getting richer and whiter,” Nelson said. “In fact, that’s not the case. The county is more diverse than it was in 1990.”
The biggest news, however, may be the 142 start-ups and small businesses that have started in Orange County since 2001, Nelson said.
The county now has 23,800 square feet of space in five business incubators: the Piedmont Food and Ag Processing Center in Hillsborough, The Cube on UNC’s campus, and Midway Business Center, Launch Chapel Hill and 1789 Venture Lab in downtown Chapel Hill.
Orange County also led the way, despite the recession, to a huge growth in wealth, Nelson said. The county’s income per capita grew by 10.5 percent between 2009 and 2012, he said. Over a 20-year period, the average salary soared to a high of $51,702, outpacing both Durham and the state, he said.
Housing sales also improved, he said. Last year, 1,628 houses were sold compared to 1,886 sold in 2005. The median sales price in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro School district jumped to $153 a square foot this year, slightly less than in 2010, he said. The average home sold for $327,758 in 2013.
Renters still make up more than half of Chapel Hill and Carrboro’s housing market, Nelson said, and just over a third of Hillsborough’s housing is rented. Renters are paying more, he said, with nearly 23 percent of units priced at $1,000 to $1,500 a month in 2010-12, up from 15 percent in 2007-09.
Property taxes, based on the median housing price, are still higher here, he said, and sales tax revenues are falling to their lowest point ever. The retail gap between local retail demand and supply sits at $728 million, he said.
Help is coming, Nelson said, from Chapel Hill and Carrboro’s new and proposed retail developments. Tourism, too, has been steadily increasing since 1991. It generated $12.51 million in state and local tax revenues last year, he said.
But poverty keeps dogging the community, he said. Orange County reported 16.9 percent of residents living in poverty last year, compared to 16.1 percent statewide and 14.3 percent nationwide, he said. The poverty rate in Chapel Hill was even higher, at 22.1 percent, he said. The county also has much work to do to bring minority students’ test scores up to snuff, he said.
But it hasn’t been all bad news, he said, noting that the county reported its first real decline in the number of poor children between 2010 and 2012. There were 4,258 children living in poverty, or 15.4 percent, in 2012, he said.