North Carolina’s economy: Behind the headlines


John E. Skvarla III - Contributing Columnist



In less than four years, North Carolina’s economy has undergone significant improvement, overcoming structural and cyclical headwinds to emerge as a national leader in job creation, GDP growth and other key measures. In fact, our state is now a global economic power — the world’s 23rd largest economy.

Here are a few facts that highlight our progress and offer insight on where we’re heading:

International Leadership — Numbers illustrate a North Carolina economy that has taken its place as a worldwide player. We’ve become a go-to destination for global investment, receiving nearly $2.7 billion in foreign direct investment in 2015. Sixty-five companies from 20 nations announced investments in North Carolina last year. Significantly, 80 percent of those projects were in manufacturing. Also worth noting: most of those projects involved expansions by foreign-based companies already operating in the state, which testifies to the competitiveness of North Carolina workers.

Our exports are also growing. About $30 billion worth of products made in North Carolina were shipped to foreign buyers last year – from consumer foods to aerospace components. Not all these goods came from large manufacturers. More than 87 percent of North Carolina exporters have fewer than 500 employees.

Rural Renaissance — Big corporate relocations and expansions tend to find their way to major metro areas that offer large labor pools and urban amenities. The headlines they grab eclipse the equally exciting business stories happening daily in our smaller towns and counties.

The North Carolina Rural Infrastructure Authority, approves grants and loans to businesses ranging from small-town cafes and hotels to food distributors and textile manufacturers. Since its creation in December 2013 by Governor McCrory and the General Assembly, the RIA has approved more than $114 million for utility improvements, highway and rail access, building renovation and demolition, and other prerequisites for job-growth in less populated communities.

Food manufacturing, in fact, is on the rise in North Carolina, with prominent consumer names like Perdue, B&G Foods and Hillshire Farms undertaking major expansions recently. One of the largest projects in the state last year, for example, was Sanderson Farms, which is building a production facility in Robeson County that will employ a workforce expected to exceed 1,000.

Small Business Impact — Small firms – those with 500 and fewer employees – employ 46 percent of North Carolina’s private-sector workforce. Complementing their economic power is the significant leadership they provide through volunteerism, community sponsorships and charitable giving.

North Carolina supports small businesses through the wealth of education and technical assistance offered by our community colleges and universities. But for time-crunched business owners, Business Link North Carolina answers telephone-based questions ranging from local permitting to global exporting opportunities. A program of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, BLNC responded to more than 17,700 inquiries in 2015, the bulk of which came from start-up companies.

UI Trust Fund: From Debt to Surplus — In January 2013, North Carolina’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund owed the federal government $2.5 billion dollars, a debt that by law was owed by the state’s employers.

We’ve repaid that debt ahead of schedule, and today the UI trust fund enjoys a surplus that now exceeds $2 billion. Restoring our UI system has measurable benefits for North Carolina employers, who are no longer strapped with a surcharge on their payrolls. As such, our business community has been realized a savings of $760 million, money that can now be directed into growth and hiring. Equally important, the surplus will enable the state to weather the next economic downturn without rolling up another huge debt or saddling employers with another surtax.

North Carolina’s economy stands on firm ground, and its progress has been widely shared. Together with our state and local allies and partners, N.C. Commerce is working to ensure that every North Carolina community has a fair shot at jobs, investment and prosperity in today’s fast-moving global marketplace.

Arguably, North Carolina has the No. 1 performing economy in the United States.

John E. Skvarla III, is North Carolina Secretary of Commerce.

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John E. Skvarla III

Contributing Columnist

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