Authored by Chase Smith via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),
Peace and quiet is still a major draw for people moving to smaller-yet-growing states such as Tennessee from more crowded ones such as New York, but lower taxes, great personal freedom, and conservative politics have been bringing even more people in recent years.
The Tennessee Welcome Sign is seen in 2014. (Chase Smith/The Epoch Times)
Tennessee surpassed 7 million residents in 2022 for the first time, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, making it the seventh-fastest-growing state in the United States by population last year.
States such as Tennessee have become attractive to individuals beyond the natural environment, mountains, and rivers. Those interviewed by The Epoch Times who moved from Illinois and New York said lower property taxes, low or no state income tax, and more conservative populations have become attractive reasons to move to the southeast.
According to the bureau, the Southeastern United States is the most populated region of the country, with nearly 129 million residents, and it was the largest-gaining region in 2022, growing by 1.1 percent, or 1.3 million people. Most of the increase in population came from other U.S. states (867,935) while a smaller percentage came from international migration (414,740).
The West was the only region to also increase in population, with an annual increase of 0.2 percent. The Northeast and Midwest both lost residents overall to other regions.
Corporate World to Homesteading
“We wanted to be out in the middle of nowhere,” said Matt Moreno, who moved to Spring City, Tennessee, with his wife, Marla, from the Chicago area in 2020. “We were tipped off about the property and came here fresh out of the corporate world in Chicago. We thought at first it might just be a temporary move, not permanent, and we could maybe make an Air BnB out of it and move back up north once COVID was over.”
The Morenos, both in their 30s, grew up in an area of northern Illinois about an hour north of Chicago and less than a half-hour south of Kenosha, Wisconsin–where riots and looting dominated the public psyche just around the time the Morenos were packing up to head south.
Matt Moreno works in real estate, while Marla Moreno sells herbal medicine products. While the natural environment and ability to become more homesteaders than city-dwellers were attractive, so were statistics such as lower crime, lower taxes, and conservative politics.
“You see a lot of people here with guns on their side, but we feel safer here,” Matt Moreno said.
The move wasn’t the easiest decision to make, he said, noting that he wasn’t good with his hands or “mechanically inclined” coming from the corporate world.
Matt and Marla Moreno are seen in the surrounding nature of their mountain home in Tennessee, after moving from the Chicago area. (Courtesy of Matt Moreno)
“The thing about the area that surprised me the most was the sense of community,” he said. “In Illinois, people will run you over and flick you off in the street. When we came here, neighbors came together to help us get established.”
Moreno got into the real estate world in Tennessee quickly after moving and said now he has been able to help other couples and families wanting to move to the area from similar situations he was in.
Aside from the natural beauty and culture, he said the political climate was another major reason for their move.
“Tennessee is a very conservative state with conservative values, and to be honest, that attracted me,” he said. “Illinois had an extremely liberal workforce, and I like being here among like-minded thinkers.”
Other positives for Moreno include the lack of state income tax in Tennessee, which is why a number of people have told him they’re moving to the state, too.
Moreno said they had some learning experiences, such as learning that the mountain they lived on was quite windy and the tents they put up to store his wife’s products for her herbal medicine line wouldn’t hold up.
They also got into homesteading, starting with a goat they found for sale on Craigslist. They quickly discovered goats are social animals, so they bought a second and then a third. Then came chickens and ducks.
“We felt people were rude and only cared about money where we were,” he said. “It’s peaceful here. We have trails to access and hike. It’s just a very different world.”
In his work as a real estate agent, one of the main questions people have is about any restrictions on building on land for sale. They’re usually surprised to learn that there are none and are really excited about that fact, he said.
Living in a rural area comes with some inconveniences, such as driving longer distances for shopping or eating, but Moreno said he wouldn’t trade the location.
From Upstate New York to Southeast Tennessee
The Morenos’ sentiment was shared by Lynne Jornov, a nurse who moved south with her husband, Gary, in 2018. At first, they moved to Soddy-Daisy, but relocated to the small town of Dunlap after about two years.
Lynne Jornov’s job as a nurse allows her to work anywhere, while her husband’s work as a trucker gives him flexibility as well. The two said the main reasons for their move were taxes and conservative values.
“The cost of running a small business in New York was … pretty much unmanageable,” she said. “That, together with property taxes, [made us realize that] we could retire and own our own home outright and still have to pay $10,000 a year in property taxes just to stay there. That was a little eye-opening, along with the political insanity up there. It just wasn’t worth it anymore.”
She said that although their families are still in New York, she and her husband “had to do something” and move. They also wanted to get into agriculture, with a few cows, to become more self-sufficient.
“It was a tough decision,” she said. “[New York] was very beautiful, we had all four seasons. Of course, my parents are getting older and I would love to be there all the time, but we wouldn’t be able to live anywhere near as comfortably as we do here.”
She said the couple has grown children, so that wasn’t a factor in their decision, but they would have had a tough time raising their kids in New York’s current political climate.
Gary Jornov added that toll roads called “choice lanes,” which are currently being proposed by Tennessee legislators, aren’t something he would want to see.
“This state needs to be conservative, that’s why we came here,” he said in an interview. “We want to keep conservative clause and not be taxed to death. Hopefully that doesn’t change here and stays the way it is.”
Lynne Jornov said she understands the concerns of Tennessee natives who may not want people from states with different cultural backgrounds to bring their values with them, but that’s not what they want anyway.
“We could’ve stayed in New York for that,” she said. “Tennessee is more of what we were looking for. Thank God we don’t have small kids because I wouldn’t want to raise a child in any of those places. Things they are doing and allowing are absolutely insane.”
Southward Move Followed by Millions
Jae Gillispie, who moved from a suburban area in Illinois, has documented her move with her husband to Pikeville, Tennessee, on social media for tens of thousands of viewers.
She said she left her job of 21 years, and her husband left his job of 25 years.
“We downsized,” she said. “No traffic. We love our little home. It’s just beautiful out here. I am so glad we did this. It was a huge risk, because we are not retired. We made decent money, good money, and now we make less than half of what we did, but it’s worth every penny.”
The couple moved to a rural area around 2 1/2 miles from Fall Creek Falls State Park, the largest and most visited state park in Tennessee, and around 14 miles from the small town of Pikeville.
“If you’re thinking about moving out here, which a lot of people are, this state is going crazy. Everything has doubled and tripled in price because this is such a hot state right now,” she said, adding that they moved in 2020, just as the pandemic began. “It’s not cheap anymore, it’s definitely going up in price, but it’s the best move we ever made.”
She said that after 48 years in Illinois, they decided to leave for a variety of reasons, including taxes.
“The freedoms down here, you can’t beat that,” she said. “So just to set some of the people straight that care about transplants coming down–we’re not here to change anything, we’re pretty darn conservative.”
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