BASE Provides Letter to Census Bureau Regarding Urban Area Criteria Rulemaking

Business Alliance for a Sound Economy (BASE) is a regional business advocacy organization in southeastern North Carolina. BASE partners with organizations like the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, Wilmington Cape Fear Home Builders Association and Brunswick County Association of REALTORS to advocate for growth and investment in southeastern North Carolina. Since Brunswick County was removed from the Wilmington MSA following the 2010 Census, BASE, our partners, regional local governments and other major stakeholders have been focused on the 2020 Census and the re-delineation of MSAs.


We are focused on the urban area criteria standards and 2020 Census because we want the resultant MSA designation to reflect our actual area, which includes Brunswick County. While the MSAs aren’t intended for “nonstatistical purposes,” we know a number of programs including federal funding are based on or tied to MSAs. We need it to be accurate and reflect the situation on the ground, which has not been the case since 2013.


Since the urban area criteria standards were released, we have been working with the University of North Carolina – Wilmington and Cape Fear Collective to analyze the rules and model how our population growth may be impacted by the proposed rules. Using some of the state demographic and population data, it is clear that eastern Brunswick County has continued to grow in a way that solidifies our case, but we are currently focused on the rulemaking to ensure we are in the best position possible.


To that end, in the proposed rules, two of the major “new” items for 2020 that specifically impact our region are 1) using housing density of 385 units per square mile as a threshold and 2) using LHED to show worker flow data and commuting patterns.


In the case of New Hanover and Brunswick, the LEHD data – and more specifically the LEHD Origin-Destination Employment Statistics (LODES) data –shows the flow of Brunswick residents to their place of work. It can be interpreted thusly:

  • 1% of Brunswick residents work in Brunswick
  • 8% of Brunswick residents work in New Hanover
  • 0% of Brunswick residents work in Horry
  • 3% of Brunswick residents work in a NC county other than New Hanover or Brunswick
  • 9% of Brunswick residents work in a SC county other than Horry


Brunswick County has a clear worker flow and commuting pattern link to New Hanover and Wilmington. These commuting links are obviously transportation facilities like the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, I140 and the Isabel Holmes Bridge. But we also have workers/commuters that use the Southport-Fort Fisher Ferry to travel back and forth to work between New Hanover and Brunswick Counties.


To account for this scenario, we recommend the proposed rulemaking make an addition in the section regarding “noncontiguous territory separated by exempted territory.” While this section includes road connections no greater than 5 miles, like the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, what is not accounted for is the ferry connection between New Hanover County (Kure Beach) and Brunswick County (Southport), which is also NCDOT-funded transportation infrastructure. We encourage inclusion of this type of state-funded ferry system as a commuting link between noncontiguous territory.


In closing, while the Census data is extremely important, the specifics of the urban area criteria have a significant impact on the resultant delineation of MSAs. We feel very strongly that Brunswick County is in the Wilmington MSA and the growth, commuting patterns prove it. Enhancing the “noncontiguous territory separated by exempted territory” provisions to account for water-borne commuters would further refine and enhance the final output and better reflect the situation on the ground.


As we saw last time, once the MSA delineations are set, it can be many years before an opportunity arises to fix it and make it right.

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