Hopefully, the attraction of new residents with college degrees to the Memphis region is part of a trend, and that’s one of many we discovered recently as we looked through population migration numbers.

Stick with us, we know these are a lot of numbers, but we hope you find them as interesting as we do, admitting on the front end that population migration data are as addictive to us as klieg lights are to the Kardashians.

Here’s the topline summary:

* The Memphis region, in 2012, attracted more new adult residents with bachelor’s, doctoral, or professional degrees than Atlanta MSA: +1,039 in Memphis compared to -672 in Atlanta.

* The Nashville MSA only had 208 more new residents with college degrees than the Memphis MSA in 2012: 1,239 to 1,031.

* Nashville MSA lost 1,076 people with graduate or professional degrees in 2012 while Memphis MSA gained 97.

There’s More

* The Tennessee MSA with the biggest increase in adult population in 2012 was not Nashville, but Chattanooga: 5,984 to 4,988.  It’s an increase that proves the ability of a new narrative to pull in new residents.

* The out-migration of Shelby County residents to DeSoto County continued in 2007-2011 with 3,898 people moving south, but the untold story is this: 2,397 people moved the other way – from DeSoto County to Shelby County.

* In the battle over who’ll become the South’s Second City, Charlotte MSA is outdistancing Nashville MSA; in 2012, Nashville had 4,988 new residents, but Charlotte had 15,274.

* The bigger surprise in population movement in the South is that in 2012, Charlotte MSA attracted more new adult residents than Atlanta MSA: 15,274 to 10,773.

The Right Direction

While the Memphis region lost adult population in 2012, it was, however, a net attractor in the coveted demographic of new residents with professional degrees, graduate degrees, and bachelor’s degrees.

Overall, the Memphis MSA net loss was 1,110 people: 1,199 high school graduates and 1,161 people with some college moved away while 937 people with bachelor’s degrees and 94 people with professional or graduate degrees moved in.  In addition, Memphis attracted 219 without high school degrees.

When it came to people with bachelor’s, graduate, or professional degrees, Nashville MSA barely nosed out Memphis MSA: 1,239 to 1,031, and more than half of the growth in Nashville was with people with some college, with a high school degree, and less than a high school degree.

All in all, employing our best “glass half-full” attitude, it seems a positive sign for Memphis.  The loss of college-educated people has produced a decade of angst about Memphis’s ability to compete for jobs in the knowledge economy.  At least in 2012, Memphis was able to get on the right side of the migration numbers when it comes to workers with college degrees.

Chattanooga On The Move

There’s no question that our favorite bragging right for the immediate future is the fact that the Memphis MSA did better than the Atlanta MSA in 2012 in attracting people with college degrees.  That said, while our region was losing 1,110 people, Atlanta was gaining 10,773.

Of that increase, Atlanta MSA saw a net loss of 672 adults with college degrees in 2012.  The largest influx of new adult residents – 6,875 – came in high school graduates.  In addition, 5,669 new residents had some college while the region lost 1,099 people without high school degrees.

Meanwhile, Chattanooga MSA is proving the power that can come with a new narrative.  With its new image as a wired city giving birth to startups while Volkswagens are being manufactured at the plant there, Chattanooga saw the largest adult population growth of any Tennessee city in 2012.  Chattanooga ended up with net new residents of 5,984, outdistancing Nashville’s 4,988.

While Atlanta will always be a magnet for Memphis and Shelby County, and 744 moved there between 2007-2011, more than three times that many moved to Nashville MSA – 2,413.  In addition, Memphians are starting to look more and more westward as 1,147 people moved from Memphis MSA to Dallas MSA.

In Motion

Here are the out-migration destinations for Shelby County in 2007-2011 (these are not net numbers because we wanted to identify cities that are the most powerful attractors – we’ll write later about who we’re attracting here and the net numbers).  Here’s where Shelby Countians are moving:

2,413 – Nashville MSA
1,146 – Dallas MSA
943 – Los Angeles/San Diego MSA
744 – Atlanta MSA
718 – Chicago MSA
505 – Chattanooga MSA
462 – New Orleans MSA
414 – Houston MSA
379 – Denver MSA
242 – St. Louis MSA
136 – Austin MSA

While there is the common perception that people are only moving east on I-40, the fact is that there are people moving in the other direction as well.

From 2007-2011, 1,419 people from Shelby County moved to Nashville/Davidson County, 530 moved to Rutherford County, and 382 moved to Williamson.  Meanwhile, 689 people from Nashville/Davidson County moved to Shelby County; 683 people moved from Rutherford County to Shelby County, and 172 people moved from Williamson County to Shelby County.

Regional Movement

Movement within the Memphis MSA is constant.  Contrary to the conventional wisdom that everyone is leaving Shelby County because of high taxes, there seems to be a constant wave of people in and out.

The out-migration of Shelby County residents in 2007-2011 was:
3,898 – DeSoto County
1,437 – Tipton County
780 – Fayette County
774 – Crittenden County
418 – Hardeman County
228 – Marshall County
159 – Tunica County
66 — Tate County

Meanwhile, there were people from those counties back to Shelby County:
2,397 – DeSoto County
1,308 – Fayette County
1,185 – Tipton County
840 – Crittenden County
453 – Marshall County
137 – Hardeman County
70 – Tunica County
65 – Tate County

Regional Sprawl

In other words, Shelby County ended up with net new residents from Fayette County, Crittenden County, Hardeman County, and Marshall County while losing net residents to DeSoto County, Hardeman County, Tunica County, Tipton County, and Tate County.

There is a similar trend under way in Nashville as more and more people are abandoning the MSA’s core county for the ring counties of the MSA.  It’s an interesting trend line for those of us in Memphis since we often hear how much less the tax rate is in Nashville and how that’s the determining factor in its success in attracting more and more people and businesses.

Actually, between 2007-2011, 5,661 people moved from Nashville/Davidson County to Rutherford County; 2,980 moved to Williamson County; 2,729 moved to Sumner County; 2,472 moved to Wilson County; 566 moved to Robertson County; and 267 moved to Dickson.

It reminds us once again how often simple bromides about tax rates are much more complicated, and that the “grass is greener” envy for Nashville regularly ignores that it has problems of its own like its own battles with sprawl and out-migration of its people.

Sources: U.S. Census Bureau and CityLab

This is the first of several posts about population migration involving Memphis and Shelby County.