It's no big secret that many people who have left Massachusetts have moved to North Carolina. The question has just been "why?"
This past weekend, President's Day Weekend, I went to North Carolina for a small family trip. We were there to catch a few big ACC Basketball games and see the Greater Raleigh sites - which, oddly enough, is basically college after college after college. Unbeknownced to me, in just a very small area there's a set of colleges that rival Greater Boston itself in size - and class. While Raleigh may not have a Harvard and MIT, it does have a Duke and Wake Forest. Furthermore, Boston doesn't have anything like the University of North Carolina - a major research university affordable to the public (with tens of thousands taking advantage of the opportunity), with a bunch of great programs. Heck, Boston doesn't even have a NC State - an affordable university open to tens of thousands and offering housing for most of them.
People have been looking at all sorts of reasons for why North Carolina is suddenly becoming the state to move to. Some have said it has everything to do with affordability; others say there are still fairly well-paying Blue Collar jobs available there. Some new sectors are popping up in the Raleigh area as well, lured by lower wages for employees. Of course, the reason probably has to do with all of the above.
However, the colleges and universities in that area cannot be underestimated. With Raleigh being the area most people are moving to, it can't be forgotten that there probably wouldn't be a Greater Raleigh without the many universities surrounding it. They're providing jobs - lots of jobs. There must be at least 100,000 college students in a very small radius - no one should be shocked that there are new cities popping up that don't look much larger than a Lynn or New Bedford in terms of population, yet have several small sky scrappers and tons of new development.
The fact that people can get a nearly-new 3 bedroom, 2 bath townhouse with a garage for under 200k certainly isn't keeping all those new graduates out of the area after they graduate. Meanwhile, Mass grads are getting panick attacks when thinking about moving back in with their parents till they're 30 because they couldn't afford a house if they wanted.
Or they're moving to North Carolina.
NC clearly gets that public colleges and universities are the best investment their state can make. They're wreaking the benefits, too - with tons of new academic buildings in both major public universities I visited. There are multiple large research hospitals, tech and bio tech industries moving in (they have a stem cell park!) and who knows what else. Meanwhile, Massachusetts can't manage to build UMASS Boston a new parking garage and UMASS Amherst and Dartmouth have infrastructural needs that rival those falling concrete slabs on their sister campus.
Massachusetts is going to have a lot of difficulty addressing these very large and very real issues to compete with the North Carolinas of this country. For starters, it's not like everyone in this state can take a pay cut. Heck, we don't even have the benefits of nice weather to attract new blood to this state. However, sometimes we forget our own advantages. With hundreds of thousands of out-of-state students coming to the Bay State for their education, there's a four year long golden opportunity to net upwards of half of them if we can help them get jobs. By creating new and more affordable housing, more of them will be inclined to stay. By refocusing on declining areas like the South Coast and Springfield, we can provide areas of this state with as much potential and even affordability as the Greater Raleigh area.
Heck, in many ways, we're actually in an advantageous position. Most of the infrastructure is already there for us, we just need to improve it and add a few fine details. North Carolina had to build everything from scratch. A rail stop here, some key housing development there... and suddenly there are new hot spots that every intelligent, hardworking, tax-paying twenty something is dying to move to. Furthermore, we have a culture that extends way beyond the crazy-hair wearing, ACC-sports obsessed mentality of the folk down there.
Who cares about the Tarheels when there's the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics around? Okay, not so much the Celtics, but they surely don't have the Museum of Fine Arts, Theater District and Coolidge Corner. They definitely don't have our history, open-mindedness and lefty blogroll. So, let's stop losing people to states like North Carolina - no offense to the fine people of NC. If Massachusetts isn't the kind of state that's attracting thousands of new residents every year, we need to look long and hard at just why that is. It's indicative of some systemic problem that must be addressed before it's too late. I can't help but think a lack of affordable education, dispersed throught the state, isn't just one of those reasons.