Even the millionaires living in Teton County can’t compete with the current influx of wealth heading to a beloved tourist destination.
Teton County income statistics show billionaires moving out
That’s according to a detailed analysis by Jackson City Councilman Jonathan Schechter, who became known for his detailed analyzes of income tax data in his home community.
In the analysis, which was distributed via Schechter’s Co Thrive newsletter, the Jackson advisor examines the numbers that define this trend and their ripple effects, as well as makes a few educated guesses about what might be driving the trend.
In some ways, the wealth moving to Jackson and the Cowboy State as a whole isn’t too surprising.
Wyoming has long been known for having some of the most friendly income and trust tax laws in the nation. It also offers so many places of unspoilt beauty and high quality vacation.
But what Schechter believes has added legs to the most recent influx of wealth in Teton County is technology that allows people to sever their ties to a particular place and pursue their business interests remotely.
While a vacation in the Tetons once might last a week or two, these days people of means can live where they like to vacation for as long as they want.
“If you look at where internal migrants are going and you assume they’re moving to places they want to go, they tend to be places where people feel good about themselves – places they go to relax and rest, or where they go to find their highest and best selves,” Schechter told Cowboy State Daily.
Everywhere at once, but especially in Wyoming
Teton County’s newest residents had a median income of $661,000, while its migrants had a median income of $100,181 — a 660 percent difference. This gap leads not only Wyoming, but the nation.
The trend isn’t just happening in Teton County—nor even just in Wyoming. The statistics compiled by Schechter show that the trend is happening anywhere and everywhere in the United States where there is a highly desirable location.
This could be due to art and culture or things like ski mountains and beach resorts that attract crowds of tourists.
“I started with the main ski areas in the Northern Rockies, but then added the San Juan Islands in Washington and Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod and Nantucket. I added the Florida Keys and then a few places down in Colorado,” Schechter said.
“These are places for some reason or combination of reasons that people find desirable. And that’s the meaning of cutting the umbilical cord between where you work and where you live. Because once you can do that, you can go wherever you want to be, whatever place fulfills your heart’s desire,” he said.
Internal migrants have deeper pockets than residents
In most cases, domestic migrants make more than twice the income of non-migrant households, who themselves have a total adjusted gross income roughly 10 percent higher than the median U.S. household, according to income tax data analyzed by Schechter.
“This strongly suggests that while lifestyle community migrants do very well by national standards, they are crushed by lifestyle community standards,” Schechter wrote in his report.
Meanwhile, migrants from Teton County often land in surrounding counties, Schechter’s analysis shows, which in turn pushes lower-income families out of their communities.
The next closest community to Jackson in the U.S. is Pitkin, Colorado, with a median immigrant income of $376,331, which Schechter says is a 460 percent difference to the income of existing residents.
Collier, Florida was third with a median immigrant arrival value of $320,502, followed by Blaine, Idaho with a median immigrant arrival value of $305,321.
Schechter identified similar trends for 12 branded communities that offer something highly desirable in terms of quality of life rather than simply being a large urban area.
All counties in Wyoming
In Wyoming, the top five counties with the strongest inflow of wealth are Jackson, Lincoln, Parke, Sheridan and Sublette counties, with Goshen and Converse counties not far behind.
Lincoln’s median migrant income is $148,508, with the rest of the counties gradually decreasing from there.
But all Wyoming counties show at least some in-migration from people with higher incomes than existing residents, Schechter’s analysis shows.
“Jackson is the gateway drug to Wyoming,” he said, pointing out that while a vacationer or wealthy tourist might not be a billionaire who can afford the $26 million Granite Ridge Chateau Granite Ridge in Jackson Hole, this a person may live in a neighboring county or in another region of the state that offers a bit of the unspoiled beauty of the Cowboy State every day, while still putting them within driving distance of the places they love most.
That makes the trend much more than just a Teton County phenomenon, Schechter said, and the numbers he reviewed, plotted in a bar graph in his analysis, along with many other charts and graphs, bear that out. The trend is something many counties across the state have to contend with.
“We need help,” Schechter said. “These other counties need help with where the state is going to creatively get ahead of that curve.”
Property taxes Symptom
One ripple effect of wealth migration is a spike in property tax rates. As demand from billionaires drives up home purchase prices, it raises property tax rates and pushes people out of one market and into a more affordable one.
It’s a trend that Schechter himself has experienced, up close and personal.
“My house, property taxes went up 45 percent last year,” Schecter said. “I can tell you what didn’t go up 45 percent last year, and that was my income.”
Schechter knows there are people in Teton County who have had to sell their homes because they can’t afford their property taxes.
“I hope it doesn’t happen to me,” he said. “But if housing prices continue to rise, then property taxes will continue to rise. If that happens, I’ll have to figure out a way for my income to go up that fast, or else I’ll be forced to sell it because I won’t be able to afford my property taxes anymore.”
Band-Aids are not what the state needs
While Wyoming lawmakers proposed no fewer than 21 bills involving property tax relief in the recently concluded legislative session, all but two bills and one survey bill died.
Lawmakers approved expanding an existing estate tax refund program based on income levels, adding a circuit breaker to it so retirees who have saved money for retirement can continue to qualify.
And they approved a measure asking voters whether to create a property tax category just for residential property so it could be taxed differently from commercial and agricultural property.
Meanwhile, the study bill looks at whether a system based on purchase price rather than fair market values would work better for Wyoming residential properties. This approach would be similar to that taken for car taxation.
Schechter sees this as treating a symptom, not the root cause of the wound.
“A lot of the bills that were introduced were sort of putting a Band-Aid on a problem that nobody had really deeply diagnosed,” Schechter said. “What’s happening is that technology is freeing people to live where they want.”
The ripple effects of this aren’t just happening in Teton County, but in many counties across the Cowboy State, and it’s a situation Schechter believes will only accelerate as technology makes it easier and easier for the wealthy to simply choose to live wherever you want, regardless of where ‘work’ may be.
Wyoming has a new “Coal”
While the trend presents a significant challenge for the Cowboy State, one Schechter believes will require collaboration to solve, he also sees the challenge as a significant opportunity.
Wyoming’s revenue has been heavily dependent on hydrocarbons like oil, gas and coal, which go up and down with the market — a fact that many lawmakers or state officials have lamented in the past when there’s been a downturn.
This has prompted frequent calls to diversify the economy so that income is less dependent on commodities that come and go as the market wishes.
Schechter believes that the state’s pristine beauty, which attracts wealth like iron to a magnet, should be treated as the state’s new “coal.”
Monetizing this trend would help provide revenue streams for affordable housing for workers, as well as support the type of infrastructure the affluent are used to.
“We had approximately $9 billion in real estate sales in Teton County in 2020 and 2021,” Schechter said. “During that same time, we only had about $4.5 billion in sales taxes, taxable sales. So, we were charging 6 percent on that 4.5 billion things—it was even less than 4 billion. But then we had $9 billion in real estate or $8 billion or whatever, and we didn’t make a dime of it.”
Schechter said he hasn’t yet formulated any ideas about how that might be done — and he welcomes feedback from others in the state on his analysis — but it’s something he says requires a comprehensive and thoughtful approach.
“Four years in office have made it clear to me that the forces occupying Jackson Hole, the Tetons, and similar areas of life are so powerful — the money is so big and moving with such speed and power — that local government may not address them. adequately,” he said in his report.