Texas attracts top talent with low cost of living and high quality of life

To the outsider, analyzing domestic migration into Texas might seem like a droll intellectual pursuit. But poring over the numbers reveals a new way of looking at our state, a new way to understand how high-tech jobs, a lower cost of living and a higher quality of life has made Texas an attractive option for some of the best and brightest minds in America, luring them away from crowded, expensive coastal cities like San Francisco and New York City. 

My roles as the Texas State Demographer and as director of the Texas Demographic Center at the University of Texas in San Antonio, give me incredible insight into how populations move in and out of the state. As the Population Association of America’s Annual Meeting takes place in Austin this week, there’s no better time give some context to the numbers.

One trend that has remained unchanged for nearly a decade: Texas has led all states in net domestic migration, resulting in an estimated 1,019,434 new residents to our state between 2010 and 2017or 385 per day, and the influx does not look to be subsiding. 

Let’s look at some of these stats.

Between 2010 and 2014, the Austin metro area gained nearly 20,000 domestic migrants, San Antonio’s numbers jumped nearly 9,000, Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington saw an increase of more than 23,000 and the Houston metro area more than 30,000. 

This goes to show that migration from outside of the state is fueling urbanization in Texas. The state’s metro regions garnered 94 percent of the total domestic migration for the state between 2010 and 2014, according to statistics compiled by the Texas Demographic Center.

With those numbers facing us, the question quickly becomes, who is moving to Texas and why are they moving here? 

The 2017 American Community Survey shows that most domestic migrant new arrivals came to Texas from California, Florida, Louisiana, Illinois and New York. In fact, more than 63,000 people moved from California to Texas alone in 2017 (40,999 went in the other direction). 

The why question is a little trickier, but certain factors are undeniable. Texas’ major cities provide a high quality of life and a lower cost-of-living than those in California and New York. And the highly educated people we’ve attracted have established major and influential hubs of industry in sectors as diverse as tech, telecommunications, healthcare, higher education and energy.

I have an acquaintance in the tech industry who recently sold his condo in San Francisco. He moved to the Austin area, bought a house and a small ranch in the Hill Country and still had money left over. Though that evidence is anecdotal, I think it’s still indicative of the mindset a lot of professionals carry when they decide to leave more expensive coastal cities for Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, Austin or any of the other commercial hubs here in Texas.

With tech companies like AT&T, Dell, NEC and Texas Instruments all basing their headquarters or major operations in Texas, combining with a thriving startup scene in Austin, the state is becoming an increasingly important innovation epicenter. 

In fact, some major companies are choosing to leave sunny California for digs in the Lone Star state. Toyota moved its North American headquarters in 2017 from Torrance, California, to Plano and brought much of its 4,200-person workforce with it. The company continues to expand in the area.

People and corporations alike realize that innovation no longer only exists in coastal cities where rents — never mind mortgages — are skyrocketing far past what normal employed people can afford. Great ideas exist wherever great minds gather, and Texas is well positioned to fill that space.

That’s why studying population data is so important. It helps us know not only who is moving here, but why they’re doing it. Armed with that information, we can understand what makes Texas so attractive to these innovative, world-class minds. The migration into our state has been driven by our growing and diversifying economy and in turn, our growing and diversifying population serves to further diversify our economy and will likely keep it booming well into the future.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at San Antonio has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Lloyd B. Potter

Texas State Demographer