There are at least 11 places in the United States named Morrisville, but the one nestled in the center of North Carolina is setting itself apart.
In 2020, the town just west of Raleigh ranked No. 10 on Money magazine’s list of top places to live in the U.S. This year the National Civic League honored it as an All-America City and Niche, a rankings and review website, named Morrisville the Best Place to Live in North Carolina.
“It sounds like an idyllic place and really, truly it is,” said Linda Frenette, head of the Morrisville Chamber of Commerce. She said major companies coming to the area want their employees to have access to good housing, good public schools, stores, parks and cultural events and “Morrisville checks all those boxes.”
Located adjacent to Research Triangle Park (RTP), the town is home to major corporations and has a large population of highly paid workers in life sciences and computer technology, many of them from India or elsewhere in South Asia. Its population is younger, wealthier, more educated and more diverse than the North Carolina average. The median household income is $101,738, almost twice the state median of $57,431.
But Morrisville’s success is also an obstacle. The Best Place to Live is becoming a harder place to afford. Morrisville home sale prices rose nearly 40 percent during the last 12 months to reach a median home price of $475,000.
“Everything here is crazy because it’s close to RTP,” said Barbara Dzamba, a real estate agent who has served the area for 18 years. “It’s getting pricey.”
And it’s likely to get more so. The town of 10 square miles only has about 400 acres left to develop. “The land is all used up,” said Joe Matthews, a local real estate agent. Pressure on that land got another jolt with the August announcement that Apple will build a campus at RTP, creating 3,000 jobs with an average pay of $187,000.
“The market was already going up and then came this announcement that completely changed the story,” Matthews said.
Morrisville was named in 1852 in honor of Jeremiah Morris, who donated land for a North Carolina Railroad depot and post office there. In the past two decades, the one-time depot has become a residential dynamo. Since 2000, its population has climbed sixfold from 5,200 to more than 30,000.
In many ways, Morrisville appears to be a seamless extension of its prosperous and fast growing neighbor Cary, but Morrisville has vivid distinctions. The town’s Church Street Park features a cricket pitch that is home to a professional cricket team and cricket tournaments. There are three Hindu temples, an Islamic mosque and a wide range of ethnic restaurants. Forty three percent of the population speaks a language other than English at home.
But as different as Morrisville is from other parts of North Carolina, it also mirrors what North Carolina is becoming – more urban, more diverse and more tech-oriented. Triangle towns and several Charlotte areas rank high on Best Places to Live lists. Meanwhile, many rural counties are losing population.
Michael Cline, the state demographer, said, “We always considered ourselves a rural state and our heart is with rural areas, but in reality we’re becoming a much more urban state.”
High-tech and life science industries and those related to banking and finance are fueling a rise in the quality of life in and around the state’s cities. But they are also creating an economic divide much like what has happened in tech-heavy places elsewhere in the U.S.
Morrisville Town Council member Steve Rao said executing an affordable housing plan will be “a critical next step” in addressing what he called the town’s “explosive growth.”
If housing costs are not addressed, Morrisville and other fast growing North Carolina towns appear headed for an ambivalent accolade: Best Place to Live where few can afford to live anymore.
Associate opinion editor Ned Barnett can be reached at 919-829-4512, or [email protected] newsobserver.com