RALEIGH – Millennials on the move typically aren’t concerned about the state of destination, they’re more concerned with the city or metropolitan region, the chief economist of the Kenan Institute, Dr. Gerald Cohen, told WRAL TechWire earlier this year.

Cohen’s comments followed an inquiry from WRAL TechWire after the release of a WalletHub analysis that placed North Carolina, as a state, 28th on a list of best states for millennials.

“There are places in North Carolina that appeal to millennials and these have a combination of jobs—from brewmasters to programmers—to educational and work related opportunities as well as amenities—cultural, restaurants and outdoor spaces—that appeal to millennials,” said Cohen.

And while 28th might at first pass seem negative, said Cohen, one takeaway is that location matters.

For example, in North Carolina, the overall state ranking “illustrates the diversity of outcomes across the state and how the population [in North Carolina] is less concentrated in large metro areas.”

By contrast, Cohen noted that more than half of Washington state is considered the Seattle area, and the same is true of Boston and Massachusetts.  “Since many of the metrics seem bias toward cities, states with higher metro densities—along with D.C.—are more likely to rank higher,” said Cohen.

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Future of NC?

But because the analysis indicates there’s higher value placed on population share, future rankings may be informed by the retention of the state’s student population and its ability to attract in-migration for working professionals, said Cohen.

Of course, it’s not just millennials that are seeking employment, and North Carolina’s Triangle region ranks first in the country for those in the Baby Boomer generation who are looking for jobs, according to a recent LinkedIn analysis.

Looking just at rankings of a state might not benefit millennials, noted Dr. Anne York, a professor of economics and program director at Meredith College.

“When using this list to make a relocation decision, millennials should notice if there are tradeoffs in the different components of the rankings,” said York.  “For example, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Iowa rank in the 2nd to 5th spots on Affordability, but they all rank below average on the Economic Health component.”

Focusing on qualities of specific regions—not statewide rankings—may be a better approach, York said.  And because states or regions that are considered more affordable “tend to be so due to having lower economic growth,” said York, understanding the talent and labor market for the regions may be critical for those in their early career or who are seeking to make a career move.

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NC is attracting talented workers—including millennials

According to research conducted by the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, EDPNC, North Carolina has the fourth highest rate of net migration of U.S. states.

North Carolina is currently the ninth-most populous state in America.  And, according to the analysis of Census Bureau data by EDPNC, between July 2020 and 2021, North Carolina netted more than 95,000 new residents through migration alone.

“More importantly, as the data shows, the in-migration we are seeing tends to reflect a more educated—and presumably higher-skilled—working age population,” said Christopher Chung, CEO of EDPNC, in an interview with WRAL TechWire.

The data shows that 74% of in-migration from people aged 25 or greater have some college education or higher, and is equivalent to an influx of more than 163,000 people annually with some post-secondary education completed.

Further, the median age for all migrants to North Carolina is 28.2 years of age, a prime working age.

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Talent is paramount

“Talent is consistently the biggest driver for corporate location decisions, be it in manufacturing, technology, life sciences, or professional services,” said Chung.  “Talent availability is a function of population growth, and North Carolina’s in-migration is directly driving that growth.”

According to Chung, in addition to our state’s “organic” talent production, including through publish K-12 systems across the state, as well as North Carolina’s community colleges and its four-year colleges and universities, this in-migration is a feeder for the state’s talent pool.

Given the state aspires to be “First in Talent” as a core part of its economic development strategy, North Carolina may be seeing more net migrations of working age professionals from any other state—or at least in the top two.

That’s because the three states ahead of North Carolina are Texas, Florida, and Arizona.  “States like Florida and Arizona where in-migration is driven more by retiree growth,” said Chung.

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