Date of Award


Document Type

Terminal Project

Degree Name

Master of City and Regional Planning (MCRP)


Planning, Development and Preservation


Dr. Cliff Ellis

Committee Member

Dr. Timothy Green

Committee Member

Dr. Barry Nocks


North Carolina has experienced great economic and population growth since the 1950s. This growth has been spurred by the state’s metro areas which sprawl across the I-85 and I-40 corridors. High finance operations in Charlotte and research and development in the Triangle have been magnets for high wage job growth. On the other hand, the state’s small towns, traditionally dependent on low-skill manufacturing like textiles, furniture, and tobacco, are struggling. Of particular concern for many small towns is a steady decline of manufacturing jobs resulting in a diminished population and tax base. Not only are the small towns losing population, but they are losing a vital demographic of the population—educated, young adults. This group is relocating to metropolitan regions where job seekers are generally rewarded with a higher return on their education. This migration of educated young people to metros enhances the productivity of major cities, but induces a brain drain in small towns and rural areas.

The effects of population loss can induce changes among other variables, and soon the region is trapped in the downward spiral of cumulative causation (Myrdal, 1957). Relying on an aging, less educated workforce makes it increasingly problematic for municipalities to provide basic services such as health, education, and welfare services. These areas then become even less alluring for educated young people and such towns continue to decline. This out-migration and combined effects have left many small towns without the human capital necessary for sustaining viable communities. It is vital that the loss of human capital is reversed in small towns before such places become permanently trapped in the downward spiral.

In order to further study the problem of brain drain, and explore possible solutions, this research has used the small town of Elkin, NC as the study area which to research the problem. A survey will be administered to young adults (age 22-29) who attended the town’s only high school. These alumni may continue to live in Elkin or have moved away from Elkin. The survey will gauge attitudes young people have toward Elkin with respect to job development, basic government services, and amenities. Once attitudes have been compiled from a sample of young people, the town will have a clearer picture of which policies and programs will have the most impact in retaining and attracting its young adults.