According to the latest U-Haul migration report, Americans are picking up their roots and moving to Tennessee in droves. They are voting with their feet for the economic opportunity that the Volunteer State has to offer.
We should celebrate the factors that have made our state attractive, but we cannot just sit on our laurels. We must find new ways to better serve the residents of our state and, thereby, continue to attract new growth opportunities.
What makes Tennessee an attractive state for residency? While Tennessee has plenty of geographical, recreational and cultural attractions, the factors largely driving the migration to the state are land-use regulations, economic freedom and sound fiscal policy.
The availability and affordability of housing in Tennessee is another factor driving migration to our state. Housing is affordable in Tennessee, as compared with places such as California or New York, which are dealing with skyrocketing real estate prices, because Tennessee puts relatively few restrictions on residential and commercial building.
Economic freedom also makes Tennessee an attractive place to invest and conduct business without unnecessary interference. Tennessee is one of the most economically free states in our nation due to its healthy size of government compared with the private sector, reasonable regulation and fair taxes.
Finally, migration to Tennessee also is driven by our sound fiscal policy. People on the move are fleeing states with unmanageable debt and mounting unfunded liabilities, as these portend reduced government services or higher taxes in the future.
There are clearly lots of features to brag about in Tennessee. So, where can Tennessee improve? Occupational licensing continues to be a drag on occupational mobility within our state; it also tends to discourage migration to Tennessee. One of the most significant areas in need of reform, however, is personal freedom. Tennessee ranks 45th among the states on that metric. Improving personal freedoms in Tennessee would entail expanding school choice and eliminating our infamously unjust civil asset forfeiture laws. It also would mean reducing our unreasonably high taxes on beer, liquor and wine.
Federalist competition between states and the improvement of regulatory policies are a driving force behind the immense economic success of the U.S. As people continue to flee states with heavy taxation and unaddressed fiscal problems, such as New Jersey, Illinois and California, Tennessee stands to gain. Ultimately, states experiencing a steady loss of taxpaying citizens will be forced to embrace public policies to retain their remaining residents. The states that best protect and advance economic opportunity will ensure their residents enjoy the highest possible quality of life and will continue to attract new businesses and workers.
Let’s continue to keep Tennessee an in-bound destination. We can do that by maintaining our high degree of economic freedom and our fiscal discipline, but we also can continue to improve by expanding personal freedom here in Tennessee.
Dr. Daniel J. Smith is the director of the Political Economy Research Institute at Middle Tennessee State University and an associate professor of economics in the Jones College of Business. He also is the senior fellow for fiscal and regulatory policy at the Beacon Center of Tennessee.