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Catawba students contribute cost-of-living data to national index

By Josh Bergeron
josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — While the local cost of living is nearly 7% less than the national average, groceries health care and miscellaneous goods and services cost more than the national mean.

And Salisbury health care prices in the second quarter of 2019 were more than Charlotte, Raleigh and New York City.

That’s according to data compiled by Catawba College and submitted to the Council for Community and Economic Research as part of a new initiative with the Rowan Economic Development Commission. Students in Catawba’s intermediate macro economics course will be responsible for gathering the data this semester, said Ketner School of Business Dean Eric Hake. In other cases, the data will be compiled by students in an independent study course.

The data-gathering project, which will occur once every quarter, will provide students with a real-life connection to concepts in the classroom. Students will compiles prices on 70 to 80 products and services in Salisbury — from housing to heath care.

“One of the things that we try to do in the Ketner School is to connect students with actual hands-on projects, actual experiential learning,” Hake said.

Rowan EDC President and CEO Rod Crider echoed the sentiment that collecting cost of living data would provide “some real-life applications to the theory of economics.”

Catawba students have already collected data twice for the quarterly report, he said. There is still some tweaking to do in data gathering. For example, Hake said Food Lion, Harris Teeter and Aldi were used to collect prices for groceries for the second quarter report. And while Walmart was not among the stores used for grocery prices for the most recent report, Hake said it would be in the future.

The grocery category, for example, includes items such as the price per pound of ribeye cut steak; a half-gallon carton of whole milk; one dozen, grade A, large eggs, a 4-pound sack of cane or beet sugar and a 2-liter Coca-Cola.

Meanwhile, the housing category includes the monthly rent of a two bedroom, unfurnished apartment with one-and-a-half or two bathrooms and measuring about 950 square feet. The price of water must be included. Among other things, it also includes the total purchase price of a house with a 2,400-square-foot living area, an 8,000-square-foot lot, four bedrooms and two bathrooms.

On the report, a score of 100 means a community’s prices are at the national average. In many cases, Salisbury falls below 100 and, as a result, the national average.

Salisbury’s scores in the second quarter report are as follows

• 93.4, composite index (total cost of living)

• 101.7, grocery items

• 76.3, housing

• 92.7, utilities

• 88.7, transportation

• 112.9, health care

• 103.6 miscellaneous goods and services

Salisbury falls within the Charlotte metropolitan area in the cost of living index. And Charlotte’s results are as follows:

• 96.3, composite index

• 102.0, grocery items

• 83.6, housing

• 95.6, utilities

• 87.4, transportation

• 104.5, health care

• 106.2, miscellaneous goods and services

Hake said health care “might be the messiest” of the items included in the composite score because the pricing structure is opaque. Doctor’s offices aren’t always willing to participate, even when students describe the research.

“The data is a function of the offices and the companies that we contact, and we are taking a sample of that,” Hake said.

That the overall cost of living in Salisbury is lower than the national average and that Rowan County now has data to back that up is an asset for the Rowan EDC when trying to lure new businesses to the county, Crider said.

“Companies that are looking to locate want to understand what the total cost will be and we haven’t been able to provide that to them in a quantifiable way,” he said.

That Rowan tops the national average in a few areas won’t drive away prospective companies, Crider said, “but they would want an explanation.”

Contact editor Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4248.

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