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Lansner: Moving to California is chic again

Jonathan Lansner, The OC Register

Politics and passions aside, one thing seems clear from the math: California as a life destination is slowing climbing back in favor.
The latest evidence comes from major van lines. Each January, three industry leaders are simultaneously generous enough to share relatively detailed stats of what states drew what inbound and outbound moves of households in a year.

Moving van activity is seen by some experts as a good indication of migration for executive-level employees. These pricier relocations are often paid for by the moving workers’ employer. Yes, one could quibble if only one mover shared their business patterns. Could those trends – business up or down in a given state—be influenced by their own business skill – or lack thereof? But when all three show upswings in moves to California, it says a bunch.

My trusty spreadsheet tells me that these three van lines combined – Allied, United and Atlas—moved more folks to California than out of the state for the second consecutive year. It’s also the third increase out of the last four. Plus, the 30,669 households that moved to California last year by these three companies was a 5.9 percent jump over the previous year—and resulted in the highest number of new neighbors via major van line since 2008.

The most stunning California turn was seen by Allied Van Lines. Its 44th annual “Magnet States Report” says that its own business patterns placed California is back as on the “inbound list” — states with more folks moving in than out.
Allied handled 6,574 moves to California last year, up 8 percent vs. 2010; 6,227 moved away from the Golden State, virtually unchanged in a year. That’s a net gain of 347! (Or look at it this way: In 2011, there were 106 Allied moves to the state for every 100 out. In 2010, it was 98 in for every 100 out.)

Allied called California “the biggest surprise” on its inbound leader board, as it ranked the 7th most popular destination. By this same math, California was the biggest outbound state in 2004 and 2006 — and ranked 40th from the top last year! (Overall, Texas was the top destination, by Allied metrics. Illinois had the most net outbound losses.)

“People are realizing that living in California is finally affordable and they’re jumping on that bandwagon,” says Linda Oakley, vice president of Atlas Transfer and Storage. “We’ve had customers that we’ve moved out of state that have called us back to say, ‘I want to come home.’”

Adds Bill Lyon, general manager of Allied Van Lines: “Overall, Allied Van Lines has seen modest growth this year, and we see the news from California as a bellwether for positive movement in the future for states that have seen hard times in this economy.”
Over at United Van Lines, its 35th annual study found 16,292 of its moves were to California, a 4 percent increase vs. 2010. Moves away from California totaled 14,758 — down 1 percent in a year. That means 52.5 percent of United’s California moves were inbound vs. 51.3 percent in 2010. By this measure, California was United’s No. 12 inbound location for 2011 vs. 22nd in 2010. (District of Columbia (62.5 percent inbound) was the top destination for the fourth consecutive year. Illinois topped United’s outbound list, too at 60.8 percent.)
Then there’s Atlas Van Lines. Its 19th annual study showed that last year it handled 7,803 moves to California, a 9 percent increase vs. 2010. Its moves away from California totaled 6,758 — up 4 percent in a year. So, 53.6 percent of Atlas’ California moves in 2011 were inbound vs. 52.3 percent in 2010. (Atlas’ nationwide leader for in-bound activity was — for the sixth year in a row — Washington, D.C. Ohio was tops when it came to outbound moves.)

Other stats show California’s allure regaining some oomph. For example: California’s population as of July 1, by state math, was 37.58 million. That’s up 0.7 percent in a year – and the fastest growth in three years.
Yet 0.7 percent population growth marks the seventh consecutive year California has run below 1 percent population expansion. From 1980 to 2004, California averaged 1.7 percent annual population growth.
Plus, in 2011, the state suffered net outmigration to other places for the seventh consecutive year. (More births than deaths grow the overall populace.)

And even the moving van uplift trend has an economic caveat: Last year’s inbound moves by the three van lines were 23 percent short of the average years seen in the most recent boom of 2005-2007.
Still, in the fog of this elongated economic bottom, it appears that others are rediscovering California’s appeal.

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