New data: In good times and bad, people are moving to NC

United Van Lines


Politicians love to take credit for good things that happen while they are in office — whether they bear any real responsibility or not. As reported in this morning’s edition of the Weekly Briefing, North Carolina Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest, of all people, is even taking credit for the state’s falling unemployment rate and high rating in Site Selection magazine. As noted in the same space last month, however, the truth of such matters is a lot less clear cut:

“Except in times of profound crisis when extraordinary powers may occasionally be conferred, it is extremely rare that a political leader can do much more than make gradual tweaks and adjustments that will bear fruit (or not, as the case may be) somewhere down the road.

Meanwhile, the trends so busily tracked and catalogued by analysts each month – jobs, unemployment, incomes, retail sales, corporate profits and the like – are just as likely to be the byproduct of decades-long patterns (e.g. the exportation of jobs overseas and the evolution of the Internet) or recent unforeseen events (e.g. bad weather, a failed crop or a new invention) as they are of comparatively recent public policies like a new tax cut or a business incentive.”

New confirmation of this complex reality comes in the latest household moving numbers from United Van Lines. According to the just released annual study, North Carolina ranked Number 3 nationally of “top destination states.”

“Hmm, what’s this,” I hear you thinking, “real evidence that conservative leadership is turning things around in the Old North State?”

Not really.

It turns out that North Carolina has ranked near the top for several years — even during the depths of the Great Recession when the Dems were coming to the end of a long run in charge.

So, what’s up? Well, as noted above, like all things in the world of economics, it’s complicated. Many people move to a state because they have a job lined up, but many others move because they’ve heard jobs are more plentiful. Still others move because of the weather or the schools or the overall quality of life.

The bottom line lesson: Given the myriad complexities of what makes a state attractive to new residents and businesses, leaders would do well to recognize that North Carolina’s overarching status as a long-term magnet for growth is almost certainly the byproduct of decades of hard work and investments in constructing the infrastructure of a healthy state. This means good roads, good schools, a healthy environment, a good workforce and all the other things that make a place enjoyable to live in.

Except in boom and bust places dependent upon things like oil and gas prices, such reputations generally take years and years to build and last a long time once they’re constructed. Given this obvious truth, state leaders would do well not to get too caught up in the quick-fix gimmicks of the kind today’s Fitzsimon File discusses and to go easy on tearing down the basic structures and systems of government and public life that it took their predecessors decades to build.

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