Over time, a city’s population naturally shifts as people move from one place to another in search of job opportunities and a better cost of living, among others. Movement of people between cities — also called metro-to-metro migration — is one of the main ways in which population numbers remain dynamic.
So, we analyzed the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau to see which metro’s net population was growing the most through metro-to-metro migration. And, the picture is clear: The Sun Belt is the biggest winner in this regard.
Hottest Area for Metro-to-Metro Migration: Sun Belt Home to All 10 Most Attractive Metros for Movers
On average, Phoenix gained 48,175 residents per year between 2014 and 2018 to claim the crown as as a result of metro-to-metro migration. Its net population growth is due to a large difference between incoming and outgoing residents. On average, Phoenix gained 177,642 residents per year from other metros, while only losing 129,467.
Specifically, most people who moved to Phoenix were from Los Angeles — 13,605 per year — followed by Tucson with 11,571 and Chicago with 7,675. Clearly, the city is a popular destination for people moving here from neighboring states and beyond. Meanwhile, the top destinations for residents leaving Phoenix were other Arizona metros, such as Tucson, Flagstaff and Prescott.
Austin’s Population Booming from Metro-to-Metro Migration, Housing Stock and Office Spaces Follow Suit
A notable presence on the list is Austin. Between 2014 and 2018, this city gained an average of 108,135 new residents from metro-to-metro migration — while only losing 81,180 — for a resulting net gain of 26,955 per year.
Austin’s 2.22 million residents in 2019 make it the second-smallest city by population on our list, ahead of only Nashville at 1.93 million. Therefore, while Austin gained fewer residents than other, larger metros like Dallas and Phoenix, the new arrivals represented a larger share of Austin’s population. What’s more, the population of the entire state of Texas is also growing, as its great weather and lack of income tax attracts new residents from around the nation. And, even people moving out of Austin are mostly relocating to other Texas metros.
Austin’s draw for new residents — which is due, at least in part, to the prosperous tech and business sectors — can also be seen in new housing and office space. For instance, between 2015 and 2019, total housing units here increased by 12.5% — the only double-digit increase in housing stock among all of the top 10 metros. The second-largest increase in housing stock was in Charlotte, N.C., at 9.6%.
In terms of Austin office space, the city added 10.5 million square feet between 2015 and 2019. This number may seem small compared to Dallas’ 28.7 million and Houston’s 19.7 million. But, relative to Austin’s existing inventory, office space here grew by a significant 14.7% — once again, the largest growth margin on the list. It was followed by Nashville’s 14.1%, Charlotte’s 11.5% and Dallas’ 10.3%.
So, although Austin is only the fourth-largest metro in Texas, it recently experienced rapid growth in its population — almost doubling in the last two decades. We’ll have to wait to see whether the same growth continued during 2019 and in what way the pandemic affected Austin’s metro-to-metro migration. But, at least through 2018, Austin — and the Sun Belt as a whole — was one of the big winners of in-migration.
Data for this article was sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau, which provides yearly averages for five-year periods on how many residents move from one metro to another. The most recent data set available was for the period from 2014-2018.
Net population is defined as the number of new residents moving to a metro from other metros, minus the number of residents moving out of the initial metro area.