Jobs have a direct correlation with population migration across the country each year. But while Northwest Arkansas’ employment growth is better than average, it’s not enough to move the needle to favor a statewide pattern of more incoming than outgoing migration, according to two recent national studies.
United Van Lines completed 1,810 moves into and out of Arkansas in 2013. More than 46% (834 moves) were inbound and nearly 54% (976) were outbound, according to Melissa Sullivan, spokeswoman for United Van Lines.
In 2012, United Van Lines reports similar numbers for the Natural State with 48% (876 moves) inbound and 52% (947 moves) outbound. A similar study by Atlas Van Lines also depicts Arkansas as a balanced state with 472 incoming moves last year, and 478 outbound. The Atlas study dates back to 2004.
While the inbound moves to Arkansas totaled more than 700 per year before the 2008 recession, there were nearly that many outbound moves which was enough to keep Arkansas a balanced state over the 9-year period, according to Atlas study. Localized statistics were not available in these two national studies.
An expert who works exclusively with relocation candidate into and out of Northwest Arkansas reported similar results. Joanie Stell, relocation specialist for the local Coldwell Banker franchise, told The City Wire that relocation activity was strong in 2013 in the metro area. Stell said her firm received some 2,000 inquiries that included both inbound and outbound transfers. Stell said the firm received 259 buyer referrals from inbound transfers, while 309 other properties were sold for outbound transfers last year.
“Activity was strong last year, but many of the transfers tend to take place every two years or so as we still see retail-related businesses moving folks in and out of the region at these two-to three-year intervals,” Stell said.
She said there is always some foreign transfers in the mix. Stell is now working with some inbound transfers from Italy.
The latest U.S. Census numbers reflect that 10,287 people moved into the Northwest Arkansas metropolitan area between April 1, 2010 and July 1, 2012. That breaks down to roughly 13 people moving into the region per day, during this 26-month period. Other recently reported stats for local population growth by the Northwest Arkansas Council include births in addition to migration moves.
One in five inbound NWA residents came from outside the U.S. during this 26-month period, according to census data. The government’s migration numbers will be updated for the metro area in March. At that time the migration cutoff date will be July 1, 2013.
Economists agree the Census migration numbers are best gauge for actual new population growth by region as a fair number of the transfers into Northwest Arkansas come from elsewhere in the state following the jobs.
Jeff Collins, an independent economist who conducts the data collection and analysis for The Compass Report, recently said impressive job creation numbers continue to be the story in Northwest Arkansas.
“The unemployment rate in Northwest Arkansas was the lowest in the state amongst all MSAs in September (5.2 percent). It was more than a full percentage point lower than that for the Little Rock/North Little Rock/Conway MSA (6.4 percent). The highest rate in the state was the Pine Bluff MSA at 9.4 percent. To add perspective, of the 372 MSAs in the country, only 23 posted rates above 10 percent in October and only 57 had rates below 5 percent,” Collins wrote in his analysis.
Non-farm employment employment in Northwest Arkansas is well ahead of 2012 figures, with employment in the metro area at 222,900 in September compared to 211,700 in September 2012.
Continued growth in Northwest Arkansas has the potential to alter the state’s political landscape, according to Collins. He said the Northwest Arkansas economy is quickly approaching two-thirds of the Central Arkansas economy. The implications for relative population are obvious.
Throughout the Southern region, the Atlas study found the majority of states were balanced in terms of incoming and outgoing residents between 2012 and 2013. Tennessee, North Carolina and Texas were the exceptions with each of the states reporting more incoming moves.
Oregon, Idaho, Montana and North Dakota were each deemed inbound states largely linked to the boom in fracking jobs amid the natural gas sector.
The United Van Line study also found that Oregon was its top moving destination of 2013 with 61% of the moves being inbound. Also, notable migration changes were visible in Michigan as after 16 consecutive years as an outbound state, the number of inbound moves were sufficient for a balanced status, according to the study.
"Business incentives, industrial growth and relatively lower costs of living are attracting jobs and people to the Southeastern and Western states such as South Dakota, Colorado and Texas," said Michael Stoll, economist, professor and chair of the Department of Public Policy at the University of California, Los Angeles.
He said there is also visible migration to the Pacific Northwest by young professionals drawn by tech jobs, green space and public transit.