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.
Aaron Nelson and Chamber board chair Paige Zinn at the State of the Community meeting. Photo by Donn Young, courtesy Orange County Visitors Bureau.
CHAPEL HILL – Orange County is the wealthiest county in the state of North Carolina—but the steady flow of money outside county lines continues to be a cause for concern.
“Per capita income is the highest (and) unemployment is the lowest in the state, but we still have this huge retail gap,” said Aaron Nelson, president of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, presenting data Tuesday at his annual State of the Community report.
The “retail gap” refers to the difference between the amount of money spent by Orange County residents each year and the amount of money that’s actually spent in Orange County.
According to the state Department of Commerce, Orange County residents spent about $1.68 billion dollars last year alone—but retail sales in Orange County were less than $1 billion.
“The gap in Orange County is $728 million” in 2012, says Nelson. “Making gains on this will have (a) huge impact.”
That $728 million gap is nearly twice that of Durham County ($376 million) and more than three times the retail gap of Chatham County ($236 million). And Alamance County—thanks in part to Tanger Outlets—actually has a $154 million retail surplus. Nelson says that gap helps explain why Orange County—number one in the state in per capita income—ranks only 65th in terms of sales tax revenue.
And he says eliminating that gap—or at least reducing it—will go a long way toward easing the tax burden on local property owners. About 87 percent of Orange County’s taxable land is residential property (compared to just 60 percent in Durham), which means the county’s property tax burden will always fall most heavily on homeowners. Nelson says that number’s not going to change—so the key is to generate more sales tax revenue from the commercial property we have, so as to be less reliant on property taxes as a whole.
“We should stop focusing on (and) beating ourselves about that split between residential and commercial,” he says. “We need to use that to remind ourselves (that) we’ve got to grow revenue from commercial sources.”
And Nelson also says Orange County can ease its burden by taking steps to reduce “wealth migration,” the amount of income that leaves the county whenever people move. Not surprisingly, Orange County draws in wealth from all over the country—but when it comes to our neighboring counties, there’s a lot more money leaving Orange County than coming in.
“The biggest outflow is $179 million worth of wealth…moving to Chatham County,” says Nelson. “The second highest amount was to Alamance County, $86 million, (and) Durham County, $83 million…Wealth migration has had a negative impact on Orange County, but a positive impact on our neighbors.”
Those numbers cover the period from 1992-2010; in that span, Orange County suffered a net wealth-migration loss of nearly $50 million in gross income. (All of that loss came in the last nine years; until 2001 Orange County was gaining more than it was losing.)
Nelson delivered his State of the Community report on Tuesday at the Friday Center. You can see the full presentation at this link.http://chapelboro.com/news/business/chamber-orange-county-tax-base-falling-into-retail-gap