Feb 4, 2013
Bill McMeekin
Bill McMeekin
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Income Growth: Southern Flavored, Suburban Setting

A new analysis shows most of the top counties for total personal income growth are in the South and Southwest

An insightful new analysis of total personal income growth highlights where the wealth is and where it’s growing. And where it’s been growing a lot over the last quarter century is in the Southeast and Southwest.

The analysis examined growth in total personal income – the amount of money earned by all residents in a particular locale in a given year –  in 455 counties between 1986 and 2011. It also tracked growth in the decade between 2001 and 2011, and also looked at year-over-year growth from 2010 to 2011. Overall, Douglas County, a  292,000-population community south of Denver,  lead all counties in TPI growth between 1986 and 2011. Douglas County, which includes Castle Rock, saw TPI grow an eye-popping 2,083 percent in that period.

Here’s the top five in TPI growth from 1986 to 2011:

1. Douglas, CO +2,083%
2. Forsyth, GA +1,198.9%
3. Paulding, GA + 1,171.9%
4. Loudon, VA + 1,162.7%
5. Delaware, OH +954.5%

Even more telling than the rate of growth is where it’s taking place. Of the 25 top counties for TPI growth  from 1986 to 2011, 19 were in the South and Southwest, including seven in Texas alone. The strong South/Southwest tilt holds up in the growth rates from 2001 to 2011, (21 of top 25 counties) and from 2006 to 2011 (19 of  25 top counties).

That squares pretty well with the latest Milken Institute Best Performing Cities report, which takes into account such factors as job growth and wage growth over a five-year span. Twelve of the top 25 best-performing large metros were in the South or Southwest.

The growth chart also has a decidedly suburban/exurban feel. Forsyth and Paulding counties are both on the outskirts of Atlanta. Loudon County, VA, which includes Leesburg, is on the periphery of the Baltimore-Washington megalopolis. Delaware County, OH, is a community of about 178,000 on the northern border of Columbus.

Much has been made about the rebound of large cities and how communities with people and economic activity centered around their city cores show better performance and growth than less densely populated regions. While that may prove the case over time, the communities that are showing the highest growth levels in personal income are not the largest counties in their primary metro area.  In fact, none of the counties that include the top 50 U.S. cities in population are in the first 50 spots in TPI growth between 2001 and 2011.

How are personal income trends in your region and what’s driving them? If they’re increasing, are rising wages playing a part or more passive sources, like an increase in retirees with investment incomes? Is income growth rising more rapidly or less rapidly in the denser population areas of your region? Share your thoughts.






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