Dean Stansel of Florida Gulf Coast University created an economic freedom index and ranking for the nation’s 355 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) and 29 metropolitan divisions.  (His article will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Regional Analysis and Policy.)  To determine levels of economic freedom, Stansel examined three areas – the size of government, takings and discriminatory taxation, and labor market freedom.

Of the ten “most free” metropolitan areas, seven are in Florida and two are in New Hampshire (Live Free or Die, you know).  Of the ten “least free” areas, six are in California and three are in New York.  Naples-Marco Island, FL MSA is the most free metro in the United States, while El Centro, CA MSA is the least free.  No NC MSAs made the list of the top 20 most or least free metropolitan areas.

So, how did North Carolina MSAs fare?  The following is a list of North Carolina MSAs from most free to least free (national rank):

Raleigh-Cary, NC MSA (49)
Durham-Chapel Hill, NC MSA (62)
Burlington, NC MSA (66)
Winston-Salem, NC MSA (76)
Jacksonville, NC MSA (80)
Greensboro-High Point, NC MSA (88)
Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord, NC-SC MSA (101)
Asheville, NC MSA (114)
Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, NC MSA (123)
Goldsboro, NC MSA (129)
Fayetteville, NC MSA (133)
Greenville, NC MSA (173)
Rocky Mount, NC MSA (237)
Wilmington, NC MSA (273)

According to Stansel, the Raleigh-Cary MSA (includes Wake, Johnston, and Franklin counties) is the most free metro in North Carolina.  The Wilmington MSA (includes New Hanover, Brunswick, and Pender counties) is, by far, the least free.

Yes, the Durham-Chapel Hill MSA rank shocked me too.  It is important to note that MSAs are not simply administrative divisions (e.g. cities, municipalities, or counties) but broad geographic regions as defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.  Indeed, the Durham-Chapel Hill MSA includes Durham, Orange, Chatham, and Person counties.