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North Carolina proved to be a less attractive destination for migration during 2018 even as the nation’s ninth-largest state continued to grow, according to annual reports from two national moving companies.

U-Haul reported North Carolina dropped from seventh in 2017 to 24th in 2018 regarding net migration. It had been ranked first as recently in 2015.

Meanwhile, United Van Lines ranked North Carolina eighth for the third consecutive year, compared with fifth in 2015 and third in 2014 and 2013.

Allied Van Lines listed North Carolina fifth for overall in-migration.

North Carolina ranked fourth in the Southeast in the U-Haul report behind No. 2 Florida, No. 3 South Carolina and No. 8 Tennessee. Texas remained as the most popular migration state for the third consecutive year.

“North Carolina looks very good on United Van Lines and not good on U-Haul,” said Michael Walden, an economics professor at N.C. State University.

“Different methodologies and clients, probably higher income clients on United than on U-Haul, make it difficult to compare.

“I think it would be very premature to say North Carolina has an issue attracting residents from outside the state considering the state added over 300,000 in-migrants between 2000 and 2017,” Walden said.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimated North Carolina had 10.4 million residents as of July 1, a 1.1 percent growth over 2017 estimates. The state ranked fifth in sheer numeric growth, a measurement that favors large states with strong population growth.

U-Haul measures the states by the net gain of one-way U-Haul trucks entering a state vs. leaving that state. North Carolina’s percentage leaned slightly more to in-migration moves.

“While migration trends do not correlate directly to population or economic growth, U-Haul growth data is an effective gauge of how well states and cities are attracting and maintaining residents,” U-Haul said.

Boone was the only Triad and Northwest N.C. community ranked in U-Haul’s top 10 for positive one-way moves. The top communities were the Raleigh suburb of Clayton, the Charlotte suburb of Pineville, Asheville, Durham and Chapel Hill.

In the United Van Lines report, North Carolina ranked second in the Southeast behind No. 6 South Carolina. Topping the ranking was Vermont.

There was an overall inbound percentage of 57 percent for North Carolina, up from 56.4 percent in 2017. North Carolina has been listed as a “high inbound” state (at least 55 percent) each year since 1993. The moving company has tracked migration patterns since 1977.

United Van Lines said the common denominator among the top-10 growth states were individuals seeking new job opportunities, closer family connections and where to retire.

Jobs were the top reason for moving to North Carolina at 46.1 percent, followed by 23.4 percent family and 22.6 percent retirement.

For those leaving the state, jobs also were the top reason at 64.8 percent, followed by family at 20.3 percent and retirement at 10.5 percent.

“North Carolina has consistently featured prominently as a net in-migration state,” said Keith Debbage, a joint professor of geography and sustainable tourism and hospitality at UNC Greensboro.

“That has been triggered by a rigorous job market, attractive amenities both man-made and natural, and the retirement migration from both the Rustbelt region and ‘rebound migration’ from folks in Florida who are looking for some topography to complement the beach environment.”

Wells Fargo Securities senior economist Mark Vitner cautioned the data tends to lag the impact of recent socioeconomic events, such as the passage of the infamous House Bill 2 that went into effect in March 2016.

“I suspect that the real issue is some lingering impacts from the HB2 debacle and how it put the state’s economic development efforts in the penalty box for a few years,” Vitner said.

The law was known foremost for requiring transgender people to use restrooms, locker rooms or showers in government buildings and schools that aligned with the biological sex shown on their birth certificate, not their gender identity.

Republican legislative leaders said the law was meant to promote privacy and safety. They pushed HB2 after the city of Charlotte passed a nondiscrimination law in 2016 that included allowing transgender people to use public restrooms aligned with their gender identity.

After North Carolina experienced a national pushback from HB2, a bipartisan compromise, House Bill 142, was passed in March 2017 by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

HB142 did away with the restroom, locker room and shower use requirement. It also implemented a moratorium through Dec. 1, 2020, on local anti-discrimination ordinances.

Six states — California, Connecticut, Minnesota, New York, Vermont and Washington — and several major cities — Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Salt Lake City and Santa Fe, N.M. — continue to ban government-financed travel to North Carolina, including collegiate athletic teams.

North Carolina missed on several economic-development relocation and expansion projects during the HB2 period, more notably PayPal, as well as the loss of most of its film production industry.

“With fewer companies relocating in 2016 and 2017, that likely slowed the pace of household moves into the state,” Vitner said.

“North Carolina appears to be moving past this more recently and has seen the pace of corporate relocation announcements pick back up. This should result in more in-bound moves among prime-working age folks in 2019 and 2020.”

Vitner said another factor could be that Charlotte and Raleigh “have certainly gotten more crowded and more expensive” in recent years.

“This is also true of neighboring peers, like Nashville, Orlando and Jacksonville, Fla.,” Vitner said. “All of these cities are attracting the same types of folks.”

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Source: United Van Lines.

rcraver@wsjournal.com 336-727-7376 @rcraverWSJ

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