By DON FENLEY
Conventional wisdom holds that when inflation is high, people are less mobile. And according to the most recent U-Haul relocation analysis, the Tri-Cities are no longer Tennessee’s top destination. It’s in the top 10 but no longer No. 1. That’s all true, but it’s not the total truth. A prime example is data about who moved to the Johnson City area during the last three months of 2022.
During the last two years, the Johnson City area attracted a little over one new BrightRidge connection a day. That’s a strong relocation pattern. But during the last three months of 2022, it jumped to more than two a day. It looks like some folks are not paying attention to the inflation tamping down mobility norm.
And how about the trope that only new residents are retirees who are driving up housing prices? The fourth quarter number doesn’t support that either. The number of new residents 60 years old and older decreased from a 34% two-year share to a 28% fourth-quarter share. And folks of college and grad student age range didn’t tip the scale higher. The Q4 number was 9.5% compared to the two-year 13% share.
The age groups that did increase were those 59 to 26. During the fourth quarter, they accounted for 59% of all the new connections.
Johnson City’s share of the new connections also gave up almost 3% of its market share to increases in Jonesborough and Gray. It still accounts for 50%, but the distribution is broadening beyond the city limits.
The Q4 shares stay very close to the two-year numbers. Florida saw an increase of 1% to 15% of the total, while North Carolina and Virginia were consistent top donors. The share of new California residents dropped to 7% from 9% on the two-year composite.
“We are excited about the continued growth and what’s most intriguing in the number of new residents in the working age range who are coming into the community,” said Bob Cantler, president and CEO of the Johnson City-Jonesborough-Washington Co. Chamber of Commerce. It’s an expected and accurate statement because a lot of local workers are aging out of the labor force at a time when we have a labor shortage. The local unemployment rate may be at a record low, but the labor force participation rate lags both the state and national rates.
The two-year and Q4 numbers add some context to the stories about who’s moving to the area. At the same time, they leave the door open to unanswered questions.
Questions like: how much population comes with each new connection? Another biggie is the whispered question for those engaged in political and cultural drama. Are these newcomers conservatives attracted to a conservative area or liberals looking for new areas to liberalize?
Some of those questions will go unanswered until the Census and elections sort them out. That will take a year or so, and even then, some of the questions will remain conjecture.
What is certain is the new residents are helping the region maintain a slow-growth posture. Yes, some areas are growing faster than others. And some areas continued losing population. But from a demographic perspective, the newcomers are replenishing a situation where more locals die each year than there are births. Add to that the number of locals who move somewhere else. In other words, the region’s population would decline without newcomers. That would threaten the economy that helps the region sustain its high quality of life and low tax status.
What we do know about new residents is they continue moving here because they like the high quality of life we enjoy and want to share in it. They may not be from around here, but there are a welcome sight in the demographic and economic picture. Beyond that, the best way to learn about them is to meet them personally and professionally and continue welcoming them.
LOL Let me go ahead and tell you and ease everyone’s concerns – *very few* of the people moving here are liberals looking to liberalize…. they are conservatives moving from more expensive real estate states like Texas, Florida, California, NJ, NY, MI.
That has never been one of my concerns. But when you talk to the folks who have not read or studies relocation data and the social and political trends, they see danger in every U-Haul. For the past 24 years, the relocation and voluntary relocation process has been red states are getting redder and blue states and getting bluer.