Which metro area has the higher per capita income, Durham or Raleigh-Cary?

The Bull City – and that’s no bull, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

says Durham’s metro statistical area, or MSA, individual income moved past Raleigh-Cary in 2007 at $38,923 vs. $38,648 for Raleigh-Cary.

The news caught N.C. State University economist Dr. Mike Walden by surprise.

“That’s notable,” Walden told WRAL.com. “This gives the leaders of Durham something to crow about. Hopefully this is something they will promote.”

Reyn Bowman, chief executive officer of the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau, also was surprised – and hailed the development.

“That’s great news,” Bowman said. “I knew we were always close but that’s impressive.

“We spend so much time on what we need to fix we don’t come up for air and look around and go – wow.”

The Durham MSA includes Durham, Orange, Person and Chatham counties. The Raleigh-Cary MSA covers Wake, Franklin and Johnston.

North Carolina jobs income data certainly supports the BEA figures, as Walden noted.

“According to the N.C. Employment Security web site, average salaries in the Durham MSA are $52,000, compared to $42,000 for the Raleigh-Cary MSA,” he said.

Personal income in the BEA figures includes not only salaries but income for all persons from all services. Per capital income is based on the total dollars generated divided by the resident population of the MSA.

Walden noted that given the economic slowdown over the past year that “lower paid workers often take a bigger ‘hit’ than higher paid workers. So I would attribute the faster per capita income growth in the Durham MSA to better pay prospects for workers at the upper end of the pay scale.”

Bowman pointed out that the Durham MSA includes much more than the Bull City proper – Chapel Hill, in particular.

The Durham MSA per capita income surged 6.1 percent vs. 3.8 percent in Raleigh-Cary last year. Coupled with a faster 5.5 vs. 4.6 growth in 2006, the two-year increase lifted the Durham area past Raleigh-Cary, which led $37,221 vs. $36,693 in 2006 and $35,585 vs. $34,775 in 2005.

The average lifts Durham to 73rd place among the 363 metro areas tracked by the BEA, which is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Raleigh-Cary ranks 76th.

In population, Durham ranks 103rd nationally with 479,000 people based on 2007 U.S. Census data. Raleigh-Cary is 49th at 1,047,000.

Walden attributed Durham MSA’s growth to the prevalence of high-paying jobs available in Research Triangle Park as well as at Duke University.

“If you think about it, the jobs in the Park tend to be higher paying,” Walden said. “Most of the Park is in Durham County.”

More than 40,000 people work at some 170 companies in RTP, according to the Research Triangle Foundation. Bowman estimated that half those employees live in Durham.

The BEA data is based on where people live.

However, Bowman said strong economic growth centered around Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill, such as their respective medical centers, helped spread the wealth across the MSA. Downtown Durham is also in the midst of a renaissance similar to that taking place in Raleigh, although on a smaller scale. Plus, Durham County boasts the Treyburn residential and business development park.

Bowman also said the grouping the region’s two MSAs gave the region much to promote, although Bowman has been an aggressive advocate of separating the Durham MSA as a separate entity.

“The Triangle is very fortunate to have two very affluent MSAs,” he said, “and that fact gives us tremendous national exposure.”

The personal income total for Raleigh-Cary is much higher than Durham, given the difference in population, at nearly $40.5 billion vs. $18.7 billion. The Raleigh-Cary income grew at 8.7 percent in 2007, down from 9.5 percent in 2006 but much higher than the 6.2 percent national average. Durham’s overall personal income grew at 8.4 percent, up from a 7.7 percent rate in 2006.