Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Be Aware of the Challenges Presented by a Commuter-Heavy Non-Resident Workforce!

Significant challenges are presented by the fact that two of every three people (66%) working in Durham, a single-city county, are non-resident commuters.

This is many times the national average and Durham’s proportion only drops to 54% if you exclude workers commuting in from other parts of the four-county Durham NC Metro Area.

This means that the majority of people working in customer service, tourism, working Downtown or providing government services or news outlets or in schools or universities or Durham-based Research Triangle Park don’t actually live here.

The 110,000 non-residents working in Durham is 96% higher than the number of actual residents working here and more than quadruple the number of Durham residents who commute elsewhere to work.

More common in very small populations with a fraction of the jobs, this proportion of non-residents working in Durham is very unique for a county this size. It is for example:

  • 42% higher than the proportion of non-residents working in four similarly sized counties in North Carolina.

  • 43% higher than the three year average for Wake County and Raleigh, anchor of a metro area to the south and east.

And the proportion is not offset by the number of Durham residents working elsewhere. For instance, 29% of Durham workers commute from Wake County, virtually defining it as a bedroom community, while only 4 or 5% of Wake County’s work force lives in Durham.

Here are just 10 of the challenges created by the proportion of non-residents working in Durham:

  • Even if positive about Durham, they give visitors and newcomers, governing boards and nonprofits a Raleigh-centric misimpression even though 74% to 80% of residents in Durham and other communities in the region prefer to characterize where they live as a specific city, town or county and not as one large area.

  • Given the opportunity to host work-affiliated business travelers or association and corporate meetings, they are predisposed to direct them to out-of-town venues, robbing Durham of millions of dollars.

  • Less familiar in every aspect, they give visitors, newcomers and non-local news media a diffuse impression of the community, off-setting the fact that Durham residents are nearly three-times more likely to be passionate about their hometown than other communities according to scientific measures.

  • They are more susceptible to contamination by misperceptions, folk history and myths and predisposed to water-cooler gossip.

  • Needing to affirm their decision not to live in Durham, they are likely to redirect or misdirect relocating executives, visitors and newcomers.

  • They are less intimate with Durham, the values and traits that make it distinct as well as its features, attractions and novelties and more likely to be insensitive to its challenges and issues.

  • Voicing opinions in board rooms and meetings, on listservs and in public hearings as though they are residents, they often make it hard for true Durham residents to hear themselves think and create a distraction during problem-solving and awareness.

  • They flood applicant pools and compete with Durham residents for jobs that are generated here or in businesses attracted, here, often with local government incentives..

  • They drain Durham of philanthropic resources by redirecting workplace, personal and business donations to where they live.

  • The disproportionate number of non-residents require Durham economic development, cultural and community organizations to deploy far more resources into things like hospitality training and awareness, fundraising, stakeholder education and awareness as well as protecting the Durham brand and identity.

The proportion of non-residents working in Durham also offers three potential advantages to the community:

  • At least familiar with the road pattern and general locations, non-resident commuters can be attracted back as day-trip visitors composing in part the 70% of those dining, shopping or attending events who are non-residents.

  • While meager compared to what non-resident commuters drain from the community in wages, they do spent an average of more than $115 a week work-side.

  • When properly and proactively informed, when they report home, non-resident commuters can help counteract folklore and and other misinformation about Durham back where they live or at least put it in context.

Destination marketing and other economic development organizations are well advised to monitor census data, as DCVB does for Durham, for the proportion of commuters working in and representing their communities to external audiences like visitors and newcomers including relocating executives and businesses.

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