As people across the country discover the Capital City’s lifestyle treasures, more are choosing to land here in Columbia.
The 1990 U.S. Census tallied the population of the Columbia region at 548,936 people. By 2010, that number jumped to 767,598, an average increase of about 18 percent a year over the two decades. Breaking it down in smaller increments, that’s about 11,000 new faces each year. Demographers at the U.S. Conference of Mayors estimate the 2012 Columbia population to be 786,600, noting that during the recession growth dipped to just 1.2 percent a year. Some experts project unending growth for Columbia to be about 1.3 percent per year.
Columbia residents concerned about too much growth should consider other neighboring cities. Growth rate projections are double in places like Myrtle Beach, Raleigh and Charlotte. Cities with growth more comparable to the Midlands are Greenville, Charleston, Greensboro and the Aiken/Augusta area.
From the macro view, South Carolina is forecasted to receive about 155,000 new faces in 2013. North Carolina’s rate is double this figure because it’s twice as big and is home to the magnets of Charlotte and the Raleigh Triangle.
Columbia leadership grapples with the question of readiness. There needs to be careful consideration of the people involved in the long range planning; they will determine if Columbia is to grow by choice or by chance.
The Center For Carolina Living was founded in 1986 and has been studying Carolina demographic trends and surveying 115,000 families over the 26-year period. Through these surveys, the center reports that the $13 billion, in-migration industry is driven by South Carolina’s $18.4 billion tourism industry. As the “birth-mother” of in-migration, this economic engine attracts 28 million visitors, sustains nearly 10 percent of our jobs, creates $5 billion in payroll and delivers $1.1 billion in state and local taxes annually.
Here in the Capital City/Lake Murray Country, leaders are serious about tourism. The key infrastructure ingredient is a $34 million investment in a first class Convention Center. The Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports and Tourism funds a smart marketing campaign to aggressively position and brand Columbia as “Famously Hot,” a lemons into lemonade strategy that has successfully grown annual visitor counts to three million annually. In comparison, Charleston attracts four million.
That investment and professional direction, by Ric Luber and his team, has sparked major growth in private sector hotels, now totaling 12,000 rooms and thousands of restaurant seats, along with top talent chefs in the kitchens all over the region.
Amidst the economic havoc of the past four years, regional hotel occupancy has actually grown to approach an average of $73 per room per night at a 62 percent occupancy.
The hospitality sector employs 65,000 Midlands residents, about 10 percent of all jobs. Over all, tourism delivers $1 billion to the local economy every year.
In-migration usually results from a positive experience from visiting Columbia. Tourism leaders identify this 1.7 million, in-migrating visitor segment as “Turbo-Tourists” because, on average, they spend more, stay longer and return more frequently in their hunt for the perfect lifestyle, job or entrepreneurial opportunity.
Beyond their $5,000 to $10,000 vacation, there’s a “turbo-effect” when a Turbo-Tourist relocates and/or acquires a second home, investing $250,000 to more than $1 million in the first year. Each new household created in the Midlands produces 1.9 new jobs locally.
Then, the “turbo-effect” kicks in again as these new homeowners begin entertaining, on average, six friends and family groups a year here in Columbia. Some of them, like birds-of-a-feather, will also become Turbo-Tourists and relocate or invest here.
A third “turbo-effect” ices the economic cake. CarolinaLiving.com surveys consistently report that as many as 14 percent plan to move or launch a business, bringing intellectual capital, investing millions and creating thousands of new jobs across the Midlands.
Digging a bit deeper into our in-migration economy, recent Harris Poll surveys report that as many as 25 percent of the 74 million affluent, educated and very mobile American Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, say they will relocate at retirement. That figure is up from seven percent from the previous generation.
FORBES recently ranked Columbia in its top “25 Best Places To Retire.” In the past two years about 40 percent of our in-migrating population was over the age of 50. This percentage will grow but not overwhelm.
Fortunately, there are about 85 million Gen X-Y Millennials coming up behind the Boomers, and they love the Carolinas. They are young, intelligent, highly educated people fulfilling career and entrepreneurial goals. They are often called the Creative Class.
Avoiding the “Floridazation” of South Carolina – attracting retirees by eliminating their income tax –– is critical. The Florida “no taxes, ya’ll come” strategy has attracted too many retirees seeking low-cost living and moderate income folks who barely have enough money to last their lifetimes. When retirees do run their net worth to zero, state funded Medicaid roles fatten and bludgeon the treasury. For the more affluent class of retirees – the ones who will never qualify for Medicaid – Medicare covers their healthcare with checks written from Washington.
Macroeconomic terms define in-migration as non-industrial economic development or low cost capital importation in the form of affluent, educated people … a clean, relatively new architecture in this economy. Beyond their age-stage and entrepreneurial intentions, the Carolina Lifestyle Survey™, completed by about 4,000 families a year since 1986, teaches a great deal about the demographic trends over 26 years and even more about their psychographic lifestyle preferences. For example, the median household income is $119,000 while 77 percent have earned college degrees. Planned investment in home is $239,600.
The Columbia population growth drivers and attractions are stealthy sectors like healthcare, insurance services, state government, Fort Jackson, three colleges and U.S.C., all in a growth mode. Throw in new companies like Amazon and Nephron, and it’s clear that big business likes Columbia, the lifestyle and skilled labor.
Amazingly after years of nurtured incubation, the businesses of arts and culture have exploded across the Midlands. Starting on Main Street and flowing in every direction, Columbia is now a full-blown arts and entertainment hub. While this is thrilling for residents and the visitors, it also is critical to relocation decision makers.
Columbia is just in the sunrise phase of a major new 30-year growth driven by tourism. How the community manages in-migration and tourism for maximum long-term quality of life requires our leaders to take an enlightened approach.
Urban Land Institute Midlands Reality Check 2013
The Urban Land Institute (ULI) is an informed leadership organization active across South Carolina and boasting 60 members in the Midlands District Council. This international non-profit serves as a think tank catalyst for resourcing best practices in managing growth for highest quality of life outcomes.
In the planning stage for the Central Midlands, their collaborative visioning process is called Reality Check. Currently scheduled for the fall of 2013, the event will pull together about 300 concerned citizens to share and think for a day in the Convention Center. The goals are:
» to discover and articulate regional values and guiding principles;
» to advance Midlands unity by involving participants to address shared problems and opportunities;
» to document specific input for growth planning;
» to increase understanding of the importance and benefits of regional cooperation and planning; and
» to launch a long-term leadership platform for addressing regional growth issues over time.
The result will spark an inspired, informed and ongoing regional dialogue regarding topics such as new resident homes, job opportunities and schools; the effect of a greater population on employers, schools, roads and other infrastructure in the Midlands; and the need to work together across county lines to accommodate growth, protect historic resources, the environment and quality of life, and add value to the region’s communities.
To participate in or contribute to the Reality Check process, email PMason@CarolinaLiving.com.