One of my favorite movies is the 1969 classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The ultra-cool Paul Newman and Robert Redford play small-time bank robbers in the turn of the century cowboy West who were relentlessly pursued by a posse of lawmen that followed them for months across mountains and deserts, to big cities and ultimately even to South America.
The constant refrain between Butch and the Kid as they struggled to stay one step ahead of the posse was “Who are those guys?”
I thought about the movie this week when I was reading about the massive influx of new South Carolinians to our state. The rate of our population growth is the fifth highest in the country. I asked myself, “Who are those guys” and equally important, “why are they coming to South Carolina?”
The more I thought about it, the more I saw parallels with the movie – so stay with me on this one.
The underlying backstory of Butch and the Kid was the relentless change that was coming to the West with new people and new technology that disrupted our boy’s traditional way of life. In the past, our heroes would ride into some isolated little town, knock off the bank for a few hundred dollars and then ride off in a cloud of dust.
By the time the local sheriff realized what happened, gathered up the locals and rode off in search of the boys, Butch and the Kid were safely in some two bit cow town in the next county over, blended into the local saloon and bordello culture.
But technology changed all that. With the advent of the telegraph, one lawman could reach another miles away in minutes and the railroad enabled a posse to load up their horses and cover vast distance in a hurry in pursuit of the outlaws.
OK you say; good story but how does this relate to South Carolina?
We in the Palmetto State are like the Old West; our way of life is changing (for better and worse) with the relentless influx of new people, largely driven by technological changes. Consider this:
South Carolina is among the top 10 states in the nation for both the pace of growth and the actual number of additional residents.
According to United Van Lines, South Carolina is the second most popular destination for state to state moves. We are second only to Oregon. They calculate that for every four people that move out of our state, six more move in.
The Census Bureau says that between 2010 and 2014, our population grew by 4.5 percent while the national population only grew by 3.3 percent.
In real numbers, this means that 150,000 people moved to our state from 2012 to 2013. By comparison, Columbia’s population is only 130,000
The Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach metropolitan area, which now includes Brunswick County in North Carolina, is the seventh fastest-growing metropolitan area in the nation.
Four of the nation’s 100 fastest-growing counties are now in South Carolina, all of them along the coast.
All of this tells us there are a lot of folks coming, but who are they?
As expected, most come from surrounding states, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida. After that, it’s the Northeast and Mid-West states.
Folks moving here are disproportionately old. Across South Carolina, nearly two-thirds of the population gains from mid-2010 to mid-2013 were more than 65.
The technology changes are part of what is driving folks to come to South Carolina. Now that air conditioning is ubiquitous, our hot summers are now tolerable and our mild winters have always been attractive.
Today, it’s easy for people to live anywhere they want and stay connected to their family via smartphones and other technology. You may not have your grand kids on your lap, but you can FaceTime with them on your smartphone as often as you’d like.
And when you do want to have them on your lap, air travel has become so easy and cheap that living 1,000 miles away is no big deal.
Well, we know what happened to Butch and the Kid – ultimately they fled to Bolivia (where the forces of modernization had not arrived) and they ultimately died in a hail of bullets. It’s like the saying “adapt or die”…and our boys couldn’t adapt.
We in South Carolina need to be thinking a lot about what all this means and how we can adapt.
Because they will keep coming. Count on it.
Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and President of the SC New Democrats, an independent reform group founded by former Gov. Richard Riley to bring big change and real reform. email@example.com