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Erroneous numbers whitewash Greensboro

by Jordan Green

Like Charlotte and Raleigh, Greensboro remains a majority white city, although the Gate City boasts a more sizeable African-American population than its larger counterparts. Of the state’s five largest cities ‘—’ including Winston-Salem ‘—’ only in Durham are the black and white populations roughly even. In all five, Hispanics and Asians have doubled or tripled in numbers in the past decade.

So why do cities’ racial demographics matter, anyway? Economic development partnerships looking to attract new corporate investment to their cities provide a snapshot that they hope will convey a flattering picture to companies with dollars to invest.

Until March 28 the Greensboro Economic Development Partnership had reported on a page of its website devoted to demographics that the city’s ‘“racial distribution is predominantly white and African American.’” That was true, but the partnership’s numbers short-changed African Americans. The page reported that whites make up 75.1 percent of the city’s population, and blacks comprise 19.7 percent of the population. Further down the page the organization listed the city’s median household income as $56,100.

In reality, the Gate City is not quite so white and not so affluent.

Population statistics posted on the US Census website plainly state that Greensboro’s population during the 2000 count fell at 55.5 percent white and 37.4 percent black. The organization’s statistics under-represent African Americans by almost half. Additionally, the 2000 Census also lists Greensboro’s median household income at $39,661, not $56,100.

Those statistics also do not correlate with demographics for Guilford County in the past six years. Although Guilford as a whole is whiter and more affluent than either of its two cities, blacks still made up 29.3 percent of the county in the 2000 Census, and the median household income was $42,618.

Beverly Brewer, manager of research and information services, said on March 29 that the partnership uses statistics compiled by the Piedmont Triad Council of Governments, a membership organization in Greensboro that is supported by state and federal funds for the purpose of serving county and municipal government.

‘“I think it’s probably a situation where we have some dated information, not erroneous,’” said President Dan Lynch, who spoke by cell phone from Colorado on March 28. ‘“We source our information and we collect that from other organizations.’”

Lynch noted that YES! Weekly had contacted Brewer earlier in the month to call her attention to the inaccurate stats.

‘“If we have something that is inaccurate we need to rectify that immediately,’” he said.

The next day the old inaccurate numbers were removed from the site and new statistics were posted. The old inaccurate figure of $56,100 for the city of Greensboro came down, and the accurate $40,799 figure for Guilford County in 2000 went up. The 75 percent white-19 percent black statistics on race were removed from the demographics page, but a downloadable PDF still listed them without specifying whether they referred to the city or the county. Brewer said she planned to post numbers drawn from a 2004 population estimate for Guilford County indicating the county is 64.7 percent white and 30.7 percent black. The statistics were recently released as part of the Census’ American Community Survey.

A set of American Community Survey highlights for Guilford County published by Piedmont Triad Council of Governments paints the county as a place in dynamic transition with some notable challenges ahead.

The census found the following:

‘• 30,327 people moved into Guilford County in 2003 and 2004, with 6,454 relocating from countries outside of the United States;

‘• 84 percent of Guilford County residents work in the county, down from 88 percent in 2000;

‘• 85 percent of adults have a high school diploma, up from 83 percent in 2000, while 32 percent have a four-year college degree, up from 30 percent in 2000;

‘• 13,753 residents who do not speak English well, a number representing 3.5 percent of the population, up slightly from 2000; and

‘• Household income is on the decline ‘— from $42,618 in 2000 to $40,799 in 2004.

The Greensboro Economic Development Partnership states as its mission ‘“to facilitate the creation of high quality jobs, attract new capital investment, retain and expand existing businesses, improve per capita income and generally improve the quality of life in Greensboro and Guilford County.’”

A significant part of the audience for the partnership’s website are the legions of site-location consultants who help corporations evaluate the relative merits of communities when they’re deciding whether to relocate or expand their operations.

At least one site location consultant said he didn’t think misrepresenting a city’s racial demographics or income level would be likely to sway a company’s decision on where to invest. He added that inaccurate statistics are unlikely to sneak past companies when millions of investment dollars are at stake.

‘“I don’t think [race and income level] are necessarily number one or number two in their priorities,’” said Jim Kinnett, president of the Indiana-based Kinnett Consulting Group. ‘“Mostly what they’re going to be looking at is access to markets, education level and migration patterns ‘— where are people coming from to the jobs?

‘“I don’t really know that it would have that high an impact,’” he added. ‘“Most of us would probably go to a number of different sources to verify that what is being presented is accurate.’”

To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at jordan@yesweekly.com.

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