New arrivals add spice to Tar Heel economy.

Position:MDC Inc. president George Autry explains how the huge influx of people to North Carolina affects its economy - Interview

George Autry is president of MDC Inc., a Chapel Hill-based economics think tank. A Duke University law-school graduate, he joined MDC in 1967. In light of MDC's recent State of the South report update, he explains how the large number of people moving to North Carolina affects its economy.

BNC: How is our population changing?

We're pretty high for African-American in-migration. The white in-migration is higher in numbers, but in percentage growth it's lower. We're clearly becoming more ethnically diverse. The fastest-growing religion in North Carolina isn't Protestant, Catholic or Jewish. It's Muslim. It's an interesting century we're in store for.

BNC: What effect does in-migration have on the economy?

The people who are moving in on average are more productive than those already here. Both the whites and the African Americans from other parts of the country have higher education levels. Our balance of trade in brains is working very nicely.

BNC: What surprised you most?

A lot of things. Single-parent families headed by men have increased at a rather dramatic rate. Asian migration to the Triangle is higher than Hispanic migration - a surprise, as was the rate of growth for Asians in general. The South, which once had the lowest rate of in-migration, now has the highest in the country.

BNC: How is North Carolina's immigration different from Virginia's?

The Washington suburbs have been a magnet for foreign nationals. It's very diverse, unlike the rest of the South, where there are pockets of migration. The largest group coming to Orange County [in North Carolina] by far is from the People's Republic of China. Some are in the math department [at Carolina], and some are in the Chinese kitchens. In the Hickory region, there is a large community of Hmong tribesmen from Laos. There are a couple of settlements of Montegnard tribesmen, some in Raleigh, others near Charlotte. They were our allies in the Vietnamese war and were helped here by missionaries. Immigrants establish a beachhead, and their friends and families follow.

BNC: Most of North Carolina's growth is domestic?

Yeah, but what distinguishes North Carolina is that it has both international and domestic migration. We're still importing our German engineers and our Chinese mathematicians. But a greater proportion of the net migration in the last three or four years has been underskilled. Atlanta has seen more of that than we have, and that is simply because Atlanta is so visible. It's a...

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