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The National League of Cities (NLC) just released some compelling research assessing economic landscapes across the country. There were two main takeaways from this data. The first is that overall, local economies have reportedly improved since 2016. Definitely good news! The second is that five distinct types of local economies seemed to have emerged nationwide. Knowing the nature of a city’s economic landscape (what drives it and what it needs) allows for economic development that leads to more improvement. The success of local economies contributes to the success of the national economy.
The five types of local economies identified were a rural brain drain, cities on par, room to grow, mid-sized business boomers and major job centers. These were formulated from a cluster analysis of 224 cities nationwide and are defined by population size. A rural brain drain is classified by decreasing population (less than 50K) and a lack of affordable housing. Cities on par have a population size ranging from 50-99K and are marked by slow growth that is typically driven by new business starts. Mid-sized business boomers cities have a broader and larger population range than either of the two aforementioned categories (100 to 299k). They are marked by business expansions but often lack the necessary skilled workforce that this growth demands. Room to grow cities share the population size of mid-sized business boomers but are defined by strong commercial property values, affordable housing and population growth. Major jobs centers have a population larger than 300K and offer strong employment options and business expansions but that struggle with affordable housing shortages and poverty.
Let’s look specifically at how this relates to us here in the Lowcountry. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Charleston County alone had a population of 396,484 in 2016. The Charleston Regional Development Alliance puts the Charleston Metro Area’s population at 761,000. The Charleston area is clearly in a period of economic growth. Industry is coming not just to the Lowcountry but to the state of SC in droves. The housing demand is increasing. Infrastructure, utilities and schools are being constructed to meet this larger demand. In terms of this study, this population size identifies Charleston as a major job center; strong employment opportunities and business expansions are both evidenced in the Charleston economy. Affordable housing, the third identifying factor the study recognized, is also a concern that is often voiced. For those moving to the Charleston area for work, housing costs often seem relatively low in comparison to other parts of the country. For many locals, they seem to be creeping prohibitively high, particularly in population dense areas such as the Charleston peninsula or Mount Pleasant.
The good news is that when looking at affordable housing, if smaller individual cities are taken into consideration, such as Summerville, rather than the Charleston metro regional as a whole, the housing options increase and the great employment opportunities remain. According to the Census Bureau , Summerville’s population is just shy of 50K, placing it in the cities on par category. A quick perusal of Summerville real estate will reveal some great values that make home ownership a more viable option for a larger population of buyers that might not be able to afford an address in Charleston proper. The same could be said for many of the areas other smaller cities- all of which are in the heart of or just a quick commute to the area’s employment centers. Having these options in housing allows area residents to take advantage of affordable housing and enjoy the benefits of living in a major job center.
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