There was a time in the not-so-distant past when North Carolina was most known to the rest of the country for three big exports: barbecue, college basketball and tobacco.
The Tar Heel State’s hoops and smoked-meat traditions are alive and well, but tobacco is no longer the economic king it once was. Communities that once hosted the world’s biggest tobacco producers now are home to technology, life sciences and financial services companies. And tobacco warehouses have given way to condos and other housing.
With its temperate climate, strong educational institutions and relatively affordable housing, the shift from old economy to new has made the state an attractive destination for young families.
Factors for families to consider
NerdWallet identified the communities in North Carolina that offer young families the best combination of quality schools, jobs with good income opportunities, friendly neighbors and affordable living. Here’s what we looked at:
Home affordability. We looked at median home values and selected monthly homeowner costs.
Growth and prosperity. We evaluated past and current family incomes to gauge prosperity and prospects for economic growth.
Quality of schools. We incorporated ratings from GreatSchools, a nonprofit school-ratings site, to help determine the quality of the local schools.
Family friendliness. We examined the percentage of families with children in school and the poverty rate for families with young children to learn if a community is a positive environment for children.
NerdWallet analyzed 145 places in North Carolina — cities, towns, villages and census-designated places — with data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Only places with over 5,000 residents were analyzed. To see the full data set, click here.
Top places are near big employers. The Charlotte area is the headquarters for the country’s third-largest bank, Bank of America, while other big employers such as Wells Fargo, the Carolinas Healthcare System and American Airlines also have offices there. Similarly, the region around Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill — known as the Triangle — hosts technology and life-sciences companies such as IBM, Cisco Systems and GlaxoSmithKline. It also is home to three big universities, North Carolina State, Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill. Eight of our top 10 picks are in these two regions.
Family incomes are strong. The median family income in eight of the top 10 places ranked among the upper quarter of the places in our analysis — over $73,625 a year. Median incomes in the other two places were both above $70,000.
Best options are small- and midsize suburbs. All of the top places in our analysis were within 30 miles of a major city and under 40,000 people, allowing residents access to an urban center while also having the option to avoid it, too. Unsurprisingly, the populations of all top 10 places have grown quickly.
Best places for young families in North Carolina
One of the fastest-growing towns in North Carolina, Waxhaw’s downtown historic district, a collection of restored brick buildings dating back to the late 1800s and early 1900s, is on the National Register of Historic Places. It sits about 30 miles south-by-southeast of downtown Charlotte and just a couple miles from the South Carolina border. With about 12,000 residents, it ranks highly for the quality of education and family friendliness in our analysis, though it also ranked poorly in home affordability, largely due to its high median home value, the fifth-priciest, relative to the other top 10 places.
Sitting just outside the U.S. Interstate 485 loop that rings Charlotte, Stallings was once a sleepy trading post that specialized in “cotton and watermelons,” according to its website. It’s now a growing community of about 15,000 that’s somewhat more affordable than the rest of the top 10, with a lower median home value and monthly owner costs of about $1,436. It has highly rated schools, however, and scored well in our analysis for income prosperity and growth.
Another community on the I-485 Outer Loop, Harrisburg grew 34% from 2010 to 2015, to a population of just under 14,000. That made it the fastest-growing place in the top 10 over that period, and the second fastest among all the North Carolina places we examined. Like other Charlotte suburbs in the top 10, it ranks well for education, income prosperity and family friendliness, but low for home affordability, with a higher median home value and monthly owner costs. For fans of stock-car racing, the Charlotte Motor Speedway is just north of the city limits in neighboring Concord.
4. Wesley Chapel
Less than 10 miles from Waxhaw, Wesley Chapel was incorporated in 1998 in response to the rapid growth the formerly rural area was experiencing. The village of over 8,000 residents has a median home value that makes it one of the priciest places to live in North Carolina. For the money, though, residents will get quality schools, according to ratings at GreatSchools, and a family-friendly atmosphere, where the village ranked No. 3 in our analysis.
For years, it was known as a railroad town wedged between Raleigh and Durham. The community now hosts offices of large companies such as Oracle, Lenovo and Credit Suisse. And since 2000, Morrisville has nearly quadrupled in size to about 22,000 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Schools are excellent and Morrisville ranks among the top places in the state for its family friendliness. History buffs will take note that one of the last skirmishes of the Civil War was fought here.
6. Holly Springs
Like other formerly smaller places in the Triangle, Holly Springs has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. In 2000, it had just 9,192 residents, but by 2015, the population had more than tripled to 28,640. Located about 17 miles southwest of downtown Raleigh, Holly Springs ranks highly for family-friendliness, with 44% of families having at least one child. Both median home value and median family income are among the highest for a municipality in the state.
The only western North Carolina town in the top 10, Fletcher sits in the mountains south of Asheville and is home to the Asheville Regional Airport. Home prices are affordable relative to the other places in the top 10, though it’s still expensive compared with most communities in the state. Fletcher’s schools stand out, with a rating of 9 out of a possible 10 at GreatSchools.
The only place in the top 10 in the Greensboro area, Summerfield has excellent schools (a perfect 10 out of 10 at GreatSchools) and ranks highly for its income growth and prosperity and strong median family income. It’s also among the pricier places to live in our analysis, with both a higher median home value and monthly homeowner costs.
9. Indian Trail
A close neighbor to the Charlotte suburbs of Waxhaw and Wesley Chapel, Indian Trail is the largest place in the top 10 at 35,602 residents. It has strong schools and the living costs and housing values aren’t quite as expensive as other nearby suburbs.
Marvin, a community of about 6,000 people 20 miles south of downtown Charlotte, is the top (or bottom, depending on your perspective) in a few ways in our analysis. First, it’s the smallest city by population in the top 10, with 5,938 residents. It has the highest median home value and monthly owner costs of any place in North Carolina, making it the state’s least affordable town, village or city with over 5,000 residents. But it also ranks No. 1 in our analysis for growth and prosperity, with a median family income of $184,185, and in family-friendliness, with the highest percentage in the state of families with at least one child, 67.5%.
Tips for relocating
North Carolina is a “migrant magnet,” in the words of demographers at the Carolina Population Center, a think tank on the campus of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Indeed, while it was once mostly populated with those born within its borders, an estimated 42% of the state’s residents in 2015 were born somewhere else, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, compared with 24% in 1980.
Here a few tips to keep in mind if you are considering a move to the state:
- Find out ways to lessen the financial burden of moving.
- Assess your priorities to see if you should rent or buy a home.
- Find financial options, such as a good credit card, to cover expenses while in transition.
For resources, check out NerdWallet’s Moving and money: A financial guide for relocating.
Best places for young families in North Carolina data
All data used to analyze the 145 municipalities and census-designated places with populations over 5,000 in North Carolina are from the 2015 U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Our methodology took into account four factors:
Home affordability. This factor, which is 30% of the score, was calculated by averaging index scores for median home value and median selected monthly owner costs. The lower the costs, the higher the score.
Growth and prosperity. The two metrics involved were growth in family income from 1999 to 2015, and the median family income in 2015. Both were weighted equally; the higher the average, the higher a place’s score. It was 20% of the score.
Quality of schools. The data is from the school ratings site GreatSchools. Every place was assigned a ranking from 1 to 10. This score is 20% of the score.
Family friendliness. This factor, which is 30% of our score, was calculated by looking at the percentage of married couples with at least one child younger than 18 and the percentage of families in poverty with at least one child younger than 5.
More from NerdWallet