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The Results Are In! Self-Storage Market Winners and Losers From the ‘Great Relocation’

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There was a lot of discussion last year about a mass exodus of people away from some metro areas and how those shifts were affecting self-storage move-ins and move-outs. The U.S. Census Bureau just released official data on population shifts between 2020 and 2021, so let’s see who the biggest winners and losers were from what’s been dubbed the “Great Relocation.”

Last year, as workforce impacts from the “Great Resignation” were being chronicled with confidence through the height of the coronavirus pandemic, many of us were left to use anecdotal evidence to speculate on the effect the so-called “Great Relocation” was having on self-storage markets. There was a lot of conflicting information and opinions, but the basic consensus was that a mass exodus was underway in certain portions of the nation, particularly in California and New York.

This was being driven by analyses of metrics like change-of-address data from the U.S. Postal Service, tracking moving trucks, the number of new business startups occurring as well as the renewed attraction to suburban living and small, affordable cities, particularly among Millennials. Well, last week, the U.S. Census Bureau brought some clarity to the speculation by releasing a slew of data on nationwide population shifts that occurred last year.

Not surprisingly, much of the previously reported migratory behavior was pretty accurate, only now we have a better idea of which parts of the nation benefitted most. Not only do we have migration figures for areas impacted by population loss, we also have a more accurate picture of where people went. As such, here’s a look at the biggest winners and losers of the “Great Relocation” of 2021.

Winner: Smaller Population Centers

In general, the Census Bureau indicates people tended to move away from large, populous counties to medium and smaller ones. As a result, 65.6% of counties (2,063 out of 3,143) experienced positive domestic migration overall from 2020 to 2021. In all, 58% experienced population increases, while 41.8% had a net loss of residents. Eight counties (.3%) had no statistical change.

In addition, the nation’s micro areas (generally, places that have at least one urban cluster between 10,000 and 50,000 people) grew .2% in population, which outpaced metro areas (.1%). This marks a shift in trends, as metro areas typically have grown at a faster rate, according to the Census Bureau. Out of 543 U.S. micro areas, 287 (52.9%) experienced population increases last year.

The data correlates well with self-storage investor interest in secondary and tertiary markets. Not only do the numbers bode well for future storage demand in small municipalities and rural settings, they’re also part of the reason why so many owners of small, aging facilities with room for expansion are fielding unsolicited, off-market offers from buyers.

Winner: Texas

If there’s a grand-prize winner, it should probably be Texas. At the state, county and metro level, the Lone Star State has perhaps benefitted most from the “Great Relocation.” In all, five of the top 10 biggest population gains among counties were in Texas. Collin (36,313), Fort Bend (29,895), Williamson (27,760), Denton (27,747) and Montgomery (23,948) counties gained a combined 145,663 residents.

The state was also home to four of the top 10 metro areas with the largest gains. Dallas-Fort Worth led the nation, growing by 97,290 residents, which was 19,070 ahead of second-place Phoenix. Elsewhere, Houston (69,094) and Austin (53,301) checked in at Nos. 3 and 4, while San Antonio (35,105) ranked eighth.

When correlated with the Census Bureau’s latest data on residential building permits, it’s easy to see why Texas is constantly brought up in relation to self-storage development and investing opportunities. Prior to the latest influx of new residents, the state already had been on a four-year private-housing bender, with the number of permitted multi- and single-family units growing 39% from 2016 to 2020. For perspective, Texas had 230,503 units permitted in 2020, while second-ranked Florida tallied 164,074.

As indicators of future self-storage demand, Texas appears to be well-positioned indeed.

Loser: California

Though Alaska (80%), Louisiana (71.9%) and Illinois (65.7%) were the states with the highest percentage of counties with net domestic-migration losses between 2020 and 2021, the early indicators of population exodus from California and New York appear to have been largely accurate.

Though Riverside County, California, ranked third in the nation in population gain with 35,631, the state had four of the top 10 biggest-declining counties. Los Angeles County ranked No. 1, with a loss of 184,465, while No. 6 San Francisco (58,764), No. 7 Santa Clara (50,751) and No. 9 Alameda (33,797) counties—all in the Bay Area—collectively declined by 143,312. Los Angeles County also had the nation’s largest net migration loss at 179,757, while San Francisco County had the second largest percentage drop at 6.7%.

Right in line, the Southern California metro area of Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim ranked No. 2 in the nation for population loss at 204,776, while the Northern California metro area of San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley ranked third with a decline of 128,870.

Loser: New York

Not far behind California, New York state had three of the top 10 biggest-declining counties. New York County ranked No. 2, with a loss of 117,375, followed by No. 4 Kings County (95,022) and No. 8 Bronx County (47,706). New York County also had the nation’s second largest net migration loss at 113,642.

Meanwhile, the New York-Newark-Jersey City urban region spanning parts of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania also had the nation's largest population decline among metro areas at 385,455.

Honorable Mentions

Other notable population winners include:

  • Maricopa County, Arizona, gained the most residents from domestic migration, with an increase of 46,866. The Phoenix-Mesa-Chandler, Arizona, metro area also had the nation’s largest net migration gain of 66,850.
  • The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Florida, metro area had the third largest net migration gain at 42,089.
  • By percentage growth, St. George, Utah, led the nation at 5.1%, followed by Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, at 4.1%.
  • Florida had four of the top 10 metro areas with the largest population gains in terms of percentage growth: No. 4 Punta Gorda (3.7%), No. 5 The Villages (3.6%), No. 7 Lakeland-Winter Haven (3.3%) and No. 9 Cape Coral-Fort Myers (3%)

Other notable population losers include:

  • The metro area of Chicago-Naperville-Elgin in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin had the fourth largest net migration decline at 106,897.
  • By percentage decline among counties with 20,000 or more residents, Williams County, North Dakota, had the nation's third largest decrease at 6%, while Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana, had the fourth biggest drop at 5.3%.
  • By percentage decline among metro areas, Lake Charles, Louisiana, had the nation’s largest decrease at 5.3%, while Odessa, Texas, had the second biggest drop at 2.6%.

For a full visual of which U.S. counties had the largest population gains and losses from 2020 to 2021, check out the image below. The dark green areas indicate percentage gains of 1.6% or higher, while the dark purple areas experienced losses of at least 1.6%.

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