Unfortunately for millions of Americans, the second half of 2017 featured multiple historic weather events. From the devastating hurricanes in the southeast to the wildfires in California, these disasters will force many cities, states and the people who call them home into long-term rebuilding processes. But what if, instead of returning to hard hit areas, residents of these communities decide to just start over somewhere new? This wouldn’t be the first time that Mother Nature has caused such migrations. Most recently and notably, Hurricane Katrina resulted in the relocation of hundreds of thousands out of New Orleans alone. Many more left its suburbs and other towns across Louisiana and Mississippi for years and often, permanently.
Today, experts are predicting a similar population shift northward from Puerto Rico. After years of steady migration to the mainland for mostly economic reasons, this year’s hurricane season was likely the catalyst for an even larger exodus. Orlando alone expects as many as 100,000 evacuees. While many are temporarily living on the mainland and plan to eventually go home, only about half of Katrina evacuees have returned to New Orleans in the twelve years since the storm made landfall there.
So, what can the dental community learn from all this? There are two primary takeaways;
- Regions vulnerable to large scale natural disasters are also susceptible to population loss, and thus, dental market contraction. The effects may be particularly severe in places where economic opportunity was already limited or decreasing, giving residents less to incentive to return. Examples of these markets include Louisiana, Mississippi and Puerto Rico.
- Over time, residents may relocate to areas which are connected either geographically or demographically (family ties and/or ethnic enclaves) to these markets but less vulnerable to these same weather patterns. Orlando, Austin and Atlanta were recently highlighted in a study published in Nature as likely destinations for climate migrants.
Of course, if you’re considering a market which may be affected, positively or negatively, by weather-related migrations, you’ll also want to verify traditional measurements of opportunity. Climate and weather patterns are just one more variable to be familiar with as you weigh the long-term strengths and weaknesses of your practice location.