There’s a reason Interstate 77 is crowded every morning and afternoon, and a new study has the data to prove it.

North Mecklenburg’s population is booming, and getting older. The number of jobs in the region has increased substantially the last 13 years. And most of those positions are filled by people from other places, while north Mecklenburg residents make up a significant percentage of Charlotte’s workforce.

Obtaining the basic demographics represent the first stage of a study being compiled by the UNC-Charlotte Urban Institute at the request of Lake Norman Economic Development (LNED).

All the numbers, the dollars, the jobs and the trends will be used to create a complete picture of what north Mecklenburg has to offer, where it needs improvement, what developments should be pursued and what can be done to prepare for what’s coming.

LNED’s push for the comprehensive analysis was designed to provide a catalog of details about the region and its workforce to be used in business recruitment operations. “The information in the study will be a valuable tool for us,” Ryan McDaniels, LNED’s executive director, said. “It will provide up-to-date information in a variety of areas that are important to businesses considering a location for a new facility.”

And the accumulated data is also expected to be a valuable resource for the towns, which combine to fund LNED’s regional operations.

A detailed review

McDaniels said income levels, education background, housing data and employment statistics are just some of the factors the study will include. And the Urban Institute will merge the details into a package highlighting the status of individual towns and the entire north Mecklenburg region.

McDaniels said Davidson “got the ball rolling” with a study targeting affordable housing issues that caught his attention.

“I looked at the basics and the information being gathered and realized how valuable it could be for the entire region, all three towns,” he said.

McDaniels met with town managers from Davidson, Cornelius and Huntersville, and the group agreed to pursue the region-wide analysis.

“I’m not sure if this has ever been done to this extent,” McDaniels said. “I’ve been here five years, and I’m not aware of anything like this.”

The study should be completed early next year with local presentations planned by February.

“They have the basic data,” McDaniels said, “and now they will take a much deeper dive into the details. They will expand on the information and provide us a complete picture of where we are.”

He said income levels combined with housing statistics are the kinds of details that play significant roles in site evaluations by corporations considering investments in new production facilities.

“The workforce has to be available,” McDaniels said, “but there also has to be an understanding of the compensation people living in this area expect. It’s a fine line. You want the business, the jobs, but you also want what’s best for our residents. It all comes together.”

Affordable living

The relationship between local jobs and area housing opportunities is the aspect of the Urban Institute report Huntersville Commissioner Melinda Bales is most anxious to see.

“The primary objective of the study, from my perspective,” Bales said, “is to provide us with a better understanding, a much more detailed look, at our workforce housing situation.

“The study and report will help us understand the demographics, it will give us a picture of where people working in town are living and what we need to consider.”

She said it’s important to know what housing opportunities are, or are not, available to the “teachers, police officers, firefighters and people we need to fill the advanced manufacturing jobs we are so fortunate to have.”

“It will be interesting to see how we are meeting, or not meeting, those needs,” she added. “And how we, as a community, will respond.”

Town demographics

The basic findings by Urban Institute researches were distributed to town officials earlier this month. In single-sheet summaries, they provide a snapshot of each town.

Davidson

From 2000 and 2016, Davidson experienced a significant increase in the number of residents between the ages of 50 and 69 and a dramatic drop in the number of residents between 20 and 40. Nearly 30 percent of Davidson households have annual income at or above $200,000, and more than 80 percent earn at least $50,000.

Between 2002 and 2015, the number of jobs in Davidson grew from 2,927 to 7,319, with the largest growth reported in the “wholesale trade” category involving sales and sales-related fields. The number of manufacturing jobs decreased.

While 35 percent of Davidson’s employed residents commute to jobs in Charlotte, of the available jobs in Davidson, 8 percent are held by Davidson residents, with Charlotte, Huntersville and Cornelius residents filling more than 30 percent of the positions.

Cornelius

Cornelius has experienced a significant jump in the number of residents 60 and older from 2000 to 2016.  The number of residents in the 20-44 age group and the 50-60 age group has dropped. About 14 percent of Cornelius households have an annual income of $200,000 or more. More than 30 percent have income of less than $50,000.

Between 2002 and 2015, the number of jobs grew from 5,615 to 10,782. The number of retail trade and manufacturing jobs fell, while wholesale trade and administrative jobs increased. About 40 percent of Cornelius’ employed residents work in Charlotte, while 10 percent of the jobs in Cornelius are filled by town residents. Workers from Charlotte, Huntersville and Mooresville fill more than 30 percent of the jobs in Cornelius.

Huntersville

In the 2000 to 2016 timeframe, Huntersville experienced a sizable increase in the number of residents between 45 and 75 years old, with the biggest increase in the 50-60 age group. About 12 percent of Huntersville’s households earn $200,000 a year, and more than 25 percent earn less than $50,000.

Between 2002 and 2015, the number of jobs in Huntersville increased from 10,393 to 18,376. The town has lost wholesale trade and administrative positions and experienced a jump in manufacturing, retail trade and health care jobs. Of the jobs based in Huntersville, 13 percent are filled by Huntersville residents and 25 percent by Charlotte residents. Nearly half (48 percent) of Huntersville’s employed residents commute to jobs in Charlotte.

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