Back in 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, people across the United States started to rethink their lifestyles. Many people gained the opportunity to work remotely indefinitely. That’s something that’s stuck around for the most part. Bigger city centers emptied out as people used their newfound location freedom to explore other parts of the country.
Tennessee saw more people move there than any other state in the country during 2020, according to U-Haul data. The Volunteer State had the largest net gain of company trucks crossing the border during that time. It was the first time Tennessee was the leading growth state, according to U-Haul data. East and Central Tennessee saw the biggest gains, including Knoxville, the Tri-Cities area, Maryville, Clarksville, and Murfreesboro.
So why the influx of people into the state?
1. Tennessee is Family-Friendly
Tennessee is often named one of the country’s best places to raise a family. There are a lot of wide-open outdoor spaces, it’s a laid-back state, and all the amenities that you could need are in place. Many of the schools are good, and you can get a lot of bang for your buck as far as housing, which is always great if you’re a family with kids.
The Volunteer State has a good economy and infrastructure, and in 2021, CNBC named it one of the best states for business in the country. In 2021, it was ranked number eight for its low cost of doing business, and the economy was ranked number 2 on CNBC’s list of the top states for business. The top corporate tax rate is 6.5% currently, and in the first quarter of 2021, Tennessee had a GDP growth rate of 7.4%.
Tennessee is a right-to-work state, and it has the lowest state debt per capita in the country, according to the Tax Foundation. The state has a AAA rating from all major rating services.
3. Low Taxes
Tennessee doesn’t have an individual income tax. There is the 6.5% corporate income tax named above, and there’s a gross receipts tax. Tennessee has a 7% state sales tax rate and a max local sales tax rate of 2.75%. There’s an average combined state and local sales tax rate of 9.55%.
Since there is no personal income tax, no one in the state has to pay state-level income tax on their earnings. It’s one of the states with the lowest taxes in the country, thanks to this.
4. The Smoky Mountains
East Tennessee is one of the most beautiful parts of the country, and it’s home to the most popular national park in the country—the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The park allows visitors to hike, camp, fish, and more while exploring one of the oldest mountain ranges in the country. The park was established in 1926, and the Smokies name comes from the fact that there’s morning fog each day.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park region is divided by the border with North Carolina. There are waterfalls throughout the park, like Grotto, Laurel, Abrams, and Rainbow. Wildflowers grow in the spring and summer and there’s always an abundance of varied wildlife.
5. Low Cost of Living
As mentioned, when the COVID-19 pandemic started, a lot of people were able to have the flexibility to move away from expensive urban areas and states with a high cost of living and choose less expensive places. That’s one of the appealing things about Tennessee—it has a relatively low cost of living. This includes things outside of just the lack of a state income tax.
According to the Cost of Living Index in 2021, Tennessee ranked sixth place for the lowest cost of living in the U.S. The index uses a benchmark system, and 100 is the national average. Tennessee scored 88.7, putting it well below the national average.
While it’s generally a lost-cost state, the cost of living in bigger cities like Nashville is going to be more than what you’ll find in smaller cities and towns, but still significantly lower than in cities like New York or San Francisco.
The one place where Tennessee tends to be more expensive than the national average is on utilities, especially in major cities.
The typical value of a home in Tennessee is around $303,000 currently.
6. UT Promise
The University of Tennessee announced a few years ago the UT Promise financial aid program. The program helps bridge the financial gap for residents of the state with a household income of less than $50,000 a year who’s already qualified for the HOPE state lottery scholarship. The program started in the fall of 2020.
Applicants have to apply for enrollment by December 15 as a full-time students and submit their FAFSA. The program guarantees in-state students free tuition and fees for up to eight semesters after they receive other financial aid, like the HOPE Scholarship or Pell Grants. As part of the program, students get matched with mentors, and they do four hours of service learning every semester.
Along with the flagship UT campus in Knoxville, the state is also home to a number of other great public and private universities. Vanderbilt, Belmont, and the University of the South are all in Tennessee, as is Rhodes College.
7. Music and Entertainment
Tennessee is a culturally rich place to live. There’s an appreciation throughout the state for music and the arts. In Memphis, for example, it’s all about the blues, with legends like B.B. King has called the state home. Centrally in the state is Nashville, which is the home of country music.
The state is home to the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, which lasts for four days and is founded by Knoxville AC Entertainment. It’s held at a farm in Manchester, TN, and the attractions are multiple stages with live music from nearly any genre you can think of.
While there are downsides to calling any place home, most residents of the Volunteer State feel the upsides far outweigh these for them.