This probably won’t come as a huge surprise – but the amount of money that’s spent by Orange County residents exceeds the amount of money that’s actually spent in Orange County.
That’s a phenomenon with a technical term: it’s called a “retail gap.”
Delivering his annual “State of the Community” report this week at the Friday Center, Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce president Aaron Nelson said Orange County has a retail gap partly because we haven’t gone out of our way to bring in major retailers. “Retail is something that we’ve not historically recruited in our market,” he said, because “it generally (offers) low-wage jobs, and we’ve been thinking about (recruiting higher-paid) jobs.”
But that means a lot of the big retail centers are outside county lines – think Tanger Outlets in Alamance County, New Hope Commons and Southpoint in Durham County, and the new Walmart in Chatham. Orange County residents often leave the county to spend their money – and while other people do come to Orange County to shop and eat (especially to eat!), it’s not enough to make up the difference.
How big is Orange County’s retail gap? Citing figures from the NC Department of Commerce, Nelson says Orange County residents spent about 1.8 billion dollars in 2014, but Orange County saw less than a billion dollars in retail sales. That’s a “retail gap” of 866 million dollars in a single year, far more than any other county in our area.
And Nelson says while other nearby counties have been reducing or eliminating their retail gaps, Orange County’s has been growing.
Nelson said a growing retail gap is a sign that Orange County could still use more retail development – the better to increase sales tax revenue.
But there are also signs that sales tax revenue is already on the rise. According to the NC Department of Revenue, Orange County saw a 36 percent increase in sales tax revenue per capita in just one year, 2013.
Orange County now ranks 42nd out of North Carolina’s 100 counties in sales tax revenue per capita; prior to 2013, Orange County hadn’t cracked the top 60 in years.