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U.S. Population Migration Is Real, But It Might Not Be As Severe As Real Estate Fears

As the coronavirus ravaged densely populated metros in 2020, CRE experts predicted mass migration from hard-hit coastal regions to Sun Belt states offering extra space and lower living expenses. 


But the reality fell short of the CRE community's projections, with most U.S. states experiencing population growth well under 1% from January 2020 to January 2021, a new report from retail traffic analytics firm says. 

In fact, only two states experienced notable surges in population growth — Montana and Idaho, which reported year-over-year population hikes of 3.7% and 3.9%, respectively. 

Negative migration patterns did occur in states like New York, Massachusetts and California, which saw migration rates in the negative 1.1% to 1.8% range from January 2020 to January 2021, but most Americans leaving their homes during the pandemic headed to the burbs, not to other states, reported. 

The outcome of this data for office and retail is somewhat mixed since it shows core tenants and their end users remaining relatively nearby but perhaps wanting more flexibility to work and shop in different ways while remaining in the same geographic area. 

With its lower cost of living and less restrictive pandemic protocols, Texas expected to lure residents from New York and California in 2020, but the state's population grew at only a mild 0.2% pace from January 2020 to 2021, according to  

The data analytics firm said its research confirms that a type of geographic "stickiness" exists when individuals choose their homes, and even during the pandemic surge, migrating Americans stayed relatively close to their old hubs. 

Residents moving from pandemic-inflicted San Francisco County confirmed this preference, with the county experiencing a net migration change of negative 6.3% during the surveyed yearlong period, said.

But when looking at the counties these San Francisco residents moved to, 16 out of the top 20 counties on their go-to list were in the same state of California. 

This data runs counter to the theory that certain regions will rise on mass exoduses from other cities and states and instead shows a future office or retail market where residents are committed to certain regions and areas that are not far from their old stomping grounds. 

"If nearly 70% of all New York’s migrating population are moving to a location that is still a train-ride away from the city, that can significantly affect a decision to relocate an office or store," concluded.