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How many Charlotteans are native?

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Editor's note: This story uses the most recent numbers as of Aug.27, 2019, when this story was originally published.

Native Charlotteans are sometimes described as unicorns — so rare they also seem mystical. Transplants, on the other hand, seem far more common, and one WFAE listener said it feels like their numbers have grown considerably in the last decade.

That listener, Garrett Cooperman, is a transplant himself. He and his family moved here from New York about 15 years ago, and when he first arrived, he went out in search of a good pizza joint that served New York-style pizza (thin crust, wide slices, lots of mozzarella). Cooperman didn't find much those first few years, but then things changed.

"Over time, I've noticed there have been more really good pizza places that have sprung up," he said, "and then recently, I found a bagel shop that directly imports their bagels from a bagel shop I used to frequent back home."

That seemed to suggest more people from New York had moved into the area. On top of that, Cooperman said he kept meeting newcomers who had moved to the Queen City from the Northeast or the Midwest. So, he wrote in to FAQ City with the following question:

"What proportion of Charlotte residents do native Charlotteans make up, and how fast have people flocked here over time?"

Natives and newcomers

Cooperman's question is difficult to answer, in part because the U.S. Census Bureau doesn't track what city people were born in — only the state where they were born. While we can't calculate the number of native Charlotteans living here, we can find the number of native North Carolinians.

According to the most recent data available in 2019 from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, the answer was 41%. By comparison, the national average of people living in their home state was 58%, which means Charlotte is definitely a transient city. But the Census' community survey data showed pockets of natives here and there. Natives appeared to have a stronger presence in many of the towns skirting the city — places like Concord, Belmont and Gastonia.

Broken down by ZIP code, the highest concentrations of natives in the Charlotte metro lived in 28208 and 28206. That's west Charlotte and north Charlotte, both at roughly 60% native. The two ZIP codes with the lowest percentage of natives, meanwhile, were 28202 and 28277—uptown Charlotte and Ballantyne. Both were less than 30% native.

Changes over time

Even though the percentage of natives is low in Charlotte, their numbers are not declining — in fact, they're growing. The number of native North Carolinians has been rising an average 2.2% every year since 2007, and that's consistent with a rising number of natives across the state.

"At a statewide level, North Carolina is what we call a 'sticky state,' in that people who were born here tend to stay here," said UNC Chapel Hill researcher Rebecca Tippet.

Tippet conducted research in 2014 that found 72% of adults born in North Carolina are still living here, making us one of the stickiest states in the nation.

"We actually had the second highest rate of adult residents staying in the state of their birth," she said. "Texas is the only state that had a higher rate than we did."

Native North Carolinians overwhelmingly love their home state, she said. They've just been increasingly outnumbered by all the newcomers pouring into the city, whose numbers are growing an average 2.7% per year.

Growing pains

The top three places to move to Charlotte from, according to the census, are the Northeast, the South and Latin America, and Tippet said many of the newcomers are young and looking for work.

"Mecklenburg has a large influx of individuals 25 to 29 moving in," she said. "It looks a lot like a post-college destination."

These newcomers are driven here by jobs, family and the more temperate climate. While they're bringing lots of new skills and ideas, they're also causing the city some real growing pains like increased road traffic and rising rent and home prices.

These are real problems that need addressing, said Ely Portillo with UNC Charlotte's Urban Institute, but the growing population also brings benefits like new cultural institutions, sports teams, breweries and other outdoor activities that have sprouted up over the last decade. Plus, more people moving to the city from other parts of the country and the world leads to more diversity.

"Almost one in six people who live in Charlotte now are foreign-born immigrants, and with that comes a lot of diversity in terms of culture, in terms of food, in terms of vibrancy in the community," Portillo said. "This is not a monochromatic city in some ways like it was 50 or 60 years ago."

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Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literature and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. Reach her at cdonnelly@wfae.org or on Twitter @donnellyclairee.
Nick de la Canal is a reporter for WFAE covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. He work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal