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Recently released census data provides a look at which North Carolina cities are attracting the most residents, and which ones are losing them to other areas. Governing magazine reports that, based on the data, "most of the nation’s fastest growing metro areas are retirement destinations found in the Sun Belt."

Some North Carolina communities, such as Wilmington and Asheville, are likely benefiting from that trend. Others, such as the Triad, the Triangle and Charlotte, are drawing residents because they're home to major employers.

"To some extent, retiree migration into North Carolina is very new. It really started to uptick in the last 15 years,” said Rebecca Tippett of the Carolina Population Center, according to Governing.

The chart below ranks North Carolina's top metro areas based on net migration rate per 10,000 population. It's based on Governing magazine's analysis of U.S. Census data.

City/Area Net per 10k Population
Raleigh, NC 168
Wilmington, NC 159
Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC 140
Durham-Chapel Hill, NC 125
Asheville, NC 107
Burlington, NC 97
Winston-Salem, NC 38
Greensboro-High Point, NC 35
Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, NC 10

Not all retirees flock to the Carolinas or elsewhere in the Southeast from colder climates, however. Some initially move to Florida, then opt to relocate in search of more seasonal weather, mountains or other amenities, Tippett said. These retirees have been dubbed “halfbacks”: After first moving south, they ultimately end up moving back north -- but not all the way.

Migration across the Southeast isn’t exclusively tied to movement of retirees. The Raleigh, N.C., and Charlotte, N.C., regions attract younger adults with large research institutions and major employers. Some growing metro areas, Tippett said, also benefit from those wanting to live closer to high-quality medical facilities and caregivers.

The population shift to the Sun Belt should continue as more baby boomers retire, although another downturn in the economy would likely slow its momentum. Several Sun Belt metro areas recently rebounded after experiencing large migration drop offs during the years immediately following the Great Recession.

Sources: Triad Business Journal, Governing Magazine

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