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Chamber Hosts 14th Annual State of the Community Report

Chamber Hosts 14th Annual State of the Community Report

Carrboro Business Alliance Member News Event Partnership for a Sustainable Community Black Business Alliance

Greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro remains one of the best educated, safest, healthiest, and highest earning communities in the state, but affordable housing challenges and school achievement gaps persist.

Chapel Hill, NC: Using credible national, state, and local data sourced through a collaborative partnership with local governments and the UNC’s Carolina Demography, The Chamber For a Greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro (The Chamber) delivered the 14th annual State of the Community Report and published the comprehensive Data Book, which features more than 400 indicators on the social, economic, and environmental well-being of the community.

The State of the Community Report made clear that the Greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro region remains one of the best educated, safest, healthiest, and highest earning communities in the state, but challenges remain including affordable housing and disparities in student achievement.

"Thanks to a community-wide effort, Chapel Hill is poised for a strong recovery,” said Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger. “Having good information and a shared understanding of where we stand will help us ensure that our entire community moves forward together. Thank you to the Chamber and Carolina Demography for your hard work and collaboration to put the data book together and share it with everyone.”

Key Highlights

  • Best Educated: Chapel Hill ties Cambridge, MA for the highest percent of population with a doctorate degree (14%) and is second to Cambridge in percent of population with a bachelor's degree (77%) (p. 9), and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools is among the best in the state on end-of-grade, end-of-course, and ACT test scores despite declines during pandemic SY2021 (p. 50-53).
  • Safe and Healthy: Violent crime and property crime are down, with Orange County at a ten-year low, and Orange County boasts NC’s highest adult vaccination rate (82%) and lowest COVID-19 infection rate (fewest cases per 100,000 residents) (p. 2 and 69).
  • Highest Earning: Orange County leads the state in highest per capita income and Chatham County ranks third, local unemployment has dropped in half since May 2020, and 2021 retail sales exceed pre-pandemic levels in Orange and Chatham County (p. 12, 13, and 18).
  • Slow Growing: The decade of the 2010s saw Orange County’s slowest population growth since the 1960s and the slowest percent population growth since the 1930s. (p. 6). Hillsborough grew by 59%, but Chapel Hill and Carrboro both recorded their slowest decade of growth on record (p. 7).
  • Affordable Housing Challenges: From 2019 to 2021, median home price increased by $100,000 in Orange and Chatham Counties to $415,000 and $499,000 respectively, and the cost of rent in Orange County is up $100 a month from previous year to $1,191/month (p. 34-37).
  • School Achievement Gaps: While local school test scores exceed those of neighboring districts, Orange County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools’ Black and Hispanic student test scores continue to lag their White and Asian peers with a noticeably widening Black-White gap for 3rd grade reading in SY2021 (p. 50-53).

“Greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro continues to be a great place to live,” said Aaron Nelson, President and CEO, The Chamber For a Greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro. “We have a thriving economy, increasing home prices, and high-performing schools, but have work to do to address the negative pandemic impacts on learning and student performance.”

About the Data

This important community report is informed with timely, valid, and credible data from trustworthy national, state and local sources, and is carefully curated with the professional expertise and analysis of Carolina Demography, a division of the UNC Population Center. Data sources include:

  • Federal agencies including the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Agriculture, US. Internal Revenue Service; national nonprofit sources including the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Feeding America, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; and private sources including Burning Glass Technologies and Zillow.
  • State agencies including the N.C. Departments of Administration, Commerce, Environmental Quality, Health and Human Services, Public Instruction, and Revenue; the State Bureau of Investigation and the N.C. Sustainable Agriculture Association.
  • Local agencies including the Orange County Government, OWASA, Go Triangle, and Chapel Hill Transit; educational institutions including Durham Technical Community College and UNC-Chapel Hill, and private or nonprofit sources including The Chamber’s 40 Business Index, Triangle MLS, and Tri Local Realty.

Every slide in the State of the Community Report presentation and Data Book points to the original source for readers to dive deeper and learn more.

“With its rebounding economy strengthened by a resilient university, hospital, and a strong small business and nonprofit sector, we believe Greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro has the talent and resources it needs to address long-standing affordable housing and school achievement gap challenges which were made more acute by the pandemic,” said Aaron Nelson, President and CEO, The Chamber For a Greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro.

About the Event

The Chamber’s 14th annual State of the Community Report was presented by Piedmont Health, PNC Bank, and the Triangle Community Foundation and held virtually with more than 250 local business and community leaders in attendance. Featured speakers included Aaron Nelson, President and CEO of The Chamber; Dr. Rebecca Tippett, Founding Director of Carolina Demography, Carolina Population Center at UNC-Chapel Hill; Dr. Janet Hadar, President of UNC Hospitals; Pam Hemminger, Mayor of Chapel Hill; Dr. Nyah Hamlett, Superintendent of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School; Lori O’Keefe, President, Triangle Community Foundation; Rebecca Quinn Wolf, Senior Vice President, PNC Bank; Brian Toomey, CEO, Piedmont Health; and Tom Wiltberger, Partner-Broker, Terra Nova Global Properties and Chair of The Chamber’s Board of Directors. 

The State of the Community Report was made possible by:

Dive Deeper into the Data

Best Educated

The residents of Chapel Hill and Carrboro continue to rank among the nation’s most educated populations. Seventy-seven percent of Chapel Hill residents and 71 percent of Carrboro residents have earned a bachelor’s degree, which ranks second and sixth in the Unites States, respectively. Each town also ranks in the top-five of domestic cities with residents who have earned a doctoral degree, with 14 percent of Chapel Hill residents and 10 percent of Carrboro residents respectively.

Safe and Healthy

Residents of Orange County have committed fewer crimes over the last decade, according to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety. In 2008, Orange County officials made 5,078 arrests, a number that steadily declined over the next nine years. In 2017, 3,385 arrests were made in the Orange County, a 40 percent decline from 2008. Chatham County saw a slight uptick from its 2008 arrest total (1,156) with 1,328 arrests made in 2017. Orange County ranks the lowest among surrounding areas in violent crime with 152 violent crimes per 100,000 residents. Durham saw 704 violent crimes per 100,000 residents, Wake checked in with 250, and Chatham County reported 213. (p. 69 and 70)

Orange County ranks among the top-six in six key health indicators which include length of life, quality of life, health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors, and physical environment. According to the Robert Wood Foundation health rankings, Orange County leads North Carolina in health behaviors and clinical care and ranks below Wake County in length of life and social and economic factors. Chatham County cracks the top-10 in health behaviors, at three, and boasts the third-highest life expectancy in the state. (p. 40)

As of Sept. 24, 2021, nearly 100 percent of Orange County residents over the age of 75 have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. On average, 91.75 percent of Orange County residents over the age of 25 have received one dose, while 53 percent of residents from 18-to-24 years old and 74 percent of those ages 12-to-17 years have received the same. The vaccination rate in Orange County has translated into the state’s lowest rate of infection with 7,366 cases per 100,000 residents since March 1, 2020. Chatham County ranks third among North Carolina counties with an infection rate of 8,526 per 100,000 residents. (p. 2)

Highest Earning and Strong, Rebounding Economy

Orange County paces the state in highest per capita income with individuals earning an average of $42,231 per year. Wake County ranks second in North Carolina with workers earning $40,982, while Chatham County checks in at third ($40,967) and Durham at sixth, with an average of $35,398. For median household income, defined as the total annual earnings of all members of a household, whether a family or separate individuals living together, Wake County leads North Carolina with an average of $84,377. Orange County ranks second in annual household income ($74,314) and Chatham County ranks third with an average of $70,258. (p. 12 and 13)

Retail sales in Orange and Chatham Counties have significantly increased since 2020 as both counties have seen substantial improvement year-over-year. Orange County has seen a 21 percent uptick in retail sales in 2021 compared to the same period in 2020, while Chatham County has seen a 20 percent increase over 2020. In April 2021, Orange County retail sales was up 41 percent over April 2020, the counties highest improvement in a single month. February 2021 treated Chatham County retail sales favorably with a 20 percent positive change from February of 2020. (p. 21-24)

According to The Chamber Small Business Index, a cohort of 40 diverse local businesses, the credit card transaction value per month has returned to near pre-pandemic levels and surpassed the July 2018 transaction total. The July 2018 transaction total was valued at $1,437,447 and improved to $1,533,935 just a year later. The total fell to $995,580 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic (July 2020) but bounced back in July 2021 to $1,444,300. (p. 25)

Residents of both Orange and Chatham Counties are finding work at a much higher rate in July 2021 compared to May 2020, which saw highest unemployment rate since the Great Recession. In May 2020, 6,516 individuals in Orange and 2,985 people in Chatham County were actively looking for work and were unable to obtain employment. Both counties saw its number slashed in half by June of 2021, when 2,952 individuals in Orange County were looking for work and 1,414 people in Chatham were unable to secure a job. (p. 18-20)

Affordable Housing Challenges

According to Triangle MLS (researched by Tri Local Realty), the median home price in Orange County was $415,000 in July of 2021. The number is $87,250 greater than July 2020 and up $100,000 since July 2019. Orange home prices have consistently increased from a median price of $262,250 in July of 2011. Chatham County mirrored the $100,000 price increase in the two-year span as the median home price was $499,000 in July 2021, up from $399,000 in July 2019. In the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School District, homes closed for a median price of $489,000 in July of 2021. (p. 35 and 36)

Fair market rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Durham-Chapel Hill (Orange, Chatham, Durham, and Person Counties) was reported at $974 in July 2021, $163 dollars the North Carolina state average. For a minimum wage worker to not qualify as a cost-burdened household, a term that is defined as a household that spends greater than 30 percent of household income on rent, a minimum wage worker would need to work 103 hours per week. Orange County housing wage for a one-bedroom apartment in 2021 is $18.73, an increase from $17.35 in 2020. (p. 37-39)

School Achievement Gaps

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools student performance on end of grade, end of course, and ACT tests exceed peers in all surrounding counties. Though CHCCS exceeds all peers, 2021 test results showed substantial declines in 3rd grade reading, 3rd grade math, and 8th grade math end of course performance for all students. (p. 50-52)

After strong improvement in test scores all students in both Orange County school districts from SY2014 to SY2019, SY2021 saw a big decline in performance with 3rd grade math scores in Orange County Schools dropping by 25 points to 31% of all students scoring “grade level proficient” and dropping in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools by 22 points to 53% of all students scoring “grade level proficient” on 3rd grade end of grade reading tests (p. 50)

The achievement gap on 3rd grade reading, measured as a percentage point difference in performance between two groups of students, declined between Hispanic and White students in CHCCS by 2 points to a 44-point difference in 2021 between Hispanic and White student performance. The gap between Black and White student performance on 3rd grade reading on grade level in CHCCS grew by 18 points to a 48-point difference in 2021 between Black and White student performance (p. 51)

About The Chamber: The Chamber For a Greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro is a membership organization that serves and advances the business interests of Greater Chapel Hill, including the Towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro as well as southern Orange, northern Chatham, and southwest Durham counties. The Chamber's network of more than 700 member enterprises employs 95,000 workers throughout the region. Together with its network, The Chamber is committed to building a sustainable community where business thrives.

Contact: Katie Loovis, Vice President of External Affairs, The Chamber For a Greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro, 919-696-0781 (cell),

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