Last week local residents gathered at the Fairfield Inn for the second roundtable discussion hosted by Explore Elkin with help from Chick-fil-a of Mount Airy where population growth and housing needs were discussed.
“It’s actually quite fascinating what is happening to our state,” said moderator Crystal Morphis of Creative Economic Development Consulting participants who taught participants about the national shift to an urban society and changes in population locally.
“North Carolina is growing very quickly. It’s becoming one of the top populated states in the country,” explained Morphis. “People are migrating in huge numbers to North Carolina. By and large they are migrating to the urban centers and they’re shifting politics and all sorts of policies across the state. The North Carolina that I grew up in is not the North Carolina of today and it’s definitely not going to be the North Carolina of 10 to 15 years.”
In spite of the increasing trend for the state, based on information Morphis shared from the independent ESRI Database, the population of the Elkin zip code has been fairly stagnant since 2010 with a slight decrease in recent years, a trend which is expected to continue.
The average age of Elkin residents also can be a challenge when recruiting businesses to the area. The median age for Elkin in 2016 was about 45 years old. “This is a real issue in our marketplace,” said Morphis. “If we’re an aging population, that can be an issue.”
Although the Baby Boomers make up a significant amount of the population in general, the Millennials are on the rise as the generation to target for marketing. “Ten thousand Baby Boomers are retiring every day,” identified Morphis, however, “Millennials will make up 75 percent of the work force in 2025.”
“Yes, there are some retirees, but there are a lot of young Millennials that are migrating to Charlotte and Raleigh and other places,” claimed Morphis. “Millennials will move to an area and then find a job,” stated Morphis, explaining that this group weighs heavily the livability of a place and the personal connections they can make there as important when they make a choice in where to live.”
This information was not as discouraging as it first appeared. “Baby Boomers and Millennials are looking for a lot of the same amenities,” noted Morphis in a previous discussion.
During a Livability Survey where employees of local companies answered questions about living in Elkin, Morphis was able to identify not only groups of people most likely to move to Elkin but also what factors individuals consider when considering a move.
In addition to the answers found in the limited survey, attendees disclosed reasons for moving to Elkin including some factors that cannot be impacted by citizens such as proximity to family. Climate and location in relationship to the mountains and large cities were mentioned as positive characteristics that cannot be changed but can be marketed.
Much of the attractiveness of Elkin was related to being in a proudly rural area. The small-town atmosphere where it’s easy to get to everything needed for work as well as the needs of children due to low traffic is part of the appeal of the town.
In spite of being a small town, the Elkin Public Library, health care through Hugh Chatham Memorial and the Elkin City Schools are excellent, leading many participants to list them as reasons to move to the area including accessibility to a public university system. “Communities that are attracting retirees have lifelong learning available,” explained Morphis.
In addition to these necessities, Elkin already has superior recreation available including the extensive trails system and outdoor activities including proximity to Stone Mountain and the Blue Ridge Parkway, the historic downtown with architectural features and extensive wineries accentuated by two breweries which are popular with local companies recruiting workers.
These activities are accessible through what the group declared were good roads. “We are within a day’s trucking to half the population of the country,” informed Morphis, who also pointed out the convenience of the airport.
With these amenities, Elkin is still affordable with low taxes, according to those who attended the discussion. Also high on their list of reasons to live in Elkin was the accessibility of civic leaders, a nice chamber of commerce and the overall friendliness and general unity of the community.
Although there was no doubt that those assembled loved living in Elkin, they were able to supply a long list of problems that they felt should be addressed.
Most of the concerns were based on what Elkin is lacking. A lack of cultural diversity has likely contributed to the lack of ethnic dining. Although there has been an attempt to start new programs, no activities for teens or nightlife for adults was also considered a weakness for the town.
A significant concern was the lack of consistency in hours for existing businesses. Vicki Clark related a story about shopping downtown where businesses were not open as expected. “Who’s going to come to shop on a Saturday if they don’t know if it’s going to be open.”
“We have a lot of lifestyle entrepreneurs,” described Morphis. These are individuals who are more hobbyists and less business people. “They won’t want to stay open late,” explained Morphis, “because they don’t need to grow their business.”
Not growing a small local business can contribute to the demise of a town that sites the lack of economic opportunity as weakness. “If you’re not growing you’re dying,” declared Morphis, who described the economic temperament of a town as a cyclone. “Economies are always in motion. We have to get it moving the other way.”
Basic visual appeal is one of the most significant ways to improve Elkin’s economic flow according to those at the roundtable. Addressing the visual dilapidation and empty spaces around town, as well as using signage and sidewalks the group decided should be a priority.
The most significant obstacle to population growth was housing. “Most people want to rent for $700 or less per month,” stated Morphis. Those who wish to purchase are looking in the $100,000 to $200,000 range with most desiring a house below $150,000. Morphis pointed out buyers “are preferring a smaller foot print than a larger home and property to maintain.”
Unfortunately this is a problem in Elkin. Many of the homes available are older and in need of significant repair. Although a client may be able secure a loan for the initial purchase according to several real estate professionals in the room local banks are either unwilling or unable to finance the additional amounts needed to make repairs.
Those buyers who are able to afford the home as well as the repair have been unable to find adequate contractors to do the work needed.
For those involved in recruiting doctors and other skilled workers to Elkin, the lack of neighborhoods and subdivisions can be as troublesome as the lack of rentals and temporary housing, according to those in the roundtable. Because these individuals are often involved in a short-term project requiring them to move in only a few years, they also consider their exit strategy with the hopes of selling a home quickly.
After considering the problems and needs for housing in Elkin, the group came up with possible ways of overcoming these hardships. “What can we as a community do to change this tide,” asked Morphis, who reminded those assembled that, “transitional opportunities can often seem like a pie in the sky, but they can become true,” with hard work and commitment.
“We have an uphill battle with recruiting people,” stated Morphis, who believes that one of the easiest and most effective ways individuals can improve the economic growth of Elkin is to share a positive consistent story. “Tell you story. Tell it so often that others tell it for you.”
Residents are encouraged to get involved in the conversation by sending an email to [email protected]
Beanie Taylor can be reached at 336-258-4058 or on Twitter @TBeanieTaylor.