Inflation remains a threat. Talk of a recession is everywhere. The labor shortage is not abating. Economists expressed plenty of bearish sentiment at the 2023 Economic Outlook Forum held at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel in Durham on Friday.
But as part of that caution, one leading voice said North Carolina could be picking up business at an unprecedented rate in the new year.
“Going into 2023, the trend is pretty much the same as what we’ve seen over the last 18 months,” said Christopher Chung, head of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC), a public-private group that works to, among other things, attract new companies to the state. “We continue to see a large number of what we would call megaprojects.”
Chung said North Carolina is involved in 18 major projects, which he described as projects that promise to create at least 1,000 jobs and invest at least $1 billion.
“The number of major projects of this size has never been at this level historically,” he said. “We might see a couple of those in a given year. I have been doing this business for 26 years now. Until the last three or four years, it was unprecedented to fight for more than a couple of such mega-projects at any given time.”
The EDPNC website lists five available megasites in the state, each offering more than 1,000 acres.
Over the past two years, North Carolina was on a roll in terms of attracting new businesses: Vinfast, Boom Supersonic, Apple and Toyota among dozens of smaller projects. This week, industry publication Business Facilities named North Carolina as theirs “State of the year 2022“, adding another award to the state Rating CNBC as the best for business.
On Friday, Chung acknowledged the cooperation of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and the Republican-controlled state Legislature in announcing major vacancies, drawing applause from the forum’s crowd of about 950 people.
And Chung suggested that this winning streak could continue.
“At the very least, we have a chance to continue to attract these transformative job-creating investments that can really change the trajectory of any region of North Carolina that is fortunate enough to have these projects,” he said.
Why does NC continue to have a labor shortage
But will there be enough people for these future jobs?
The forum, hosted by the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce, the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce and the North Carolina Bankers Association, discussed the ongoing labor shortages facing the state and the nation.
“Every company I talk to is a small capacity,” said Tom Barkin, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, which covers North Carolina. “Businesses thinking about relocating are asking, ‘Where do I get talent?’
Barkin noted that North Carolina is one of a handful of states — including South Carolina, Florida and Texas — that are experiencing labor force growth. That growth, combined with North Carolina’s network of universities and 58 community colleges, is “the foundation for many opportunities,” he said.
Chung said the labor shortage is particularly hampering the state’s tourism industry, which relies on service personnel.
Laura Ulrich, a senior regional economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond in Charlotte, said, “Where are the workers?” is the most common question she asks.
“And the very unsatisfactory answer is that for the most part they are working,” she told the crowd on Friday. “People don’t like that answer, but it’s the answer.”
As of November, North Carolina had 217,000 more jobs than before COVID-19, including about 84,000 additional jobs in business and professional services, Ulrich said. The only industries in North Carolina that have seen job losses since the pandemic are government and natural resources/mining (the latter of which has shed only a few hundred positions).
As the demand for labor grew, workers had the opportunity to choose more desirable roles.
“People have gone from very hard, stressful, customer-oriented jobs—whether it’s working in fast food or working as a CNA (certified nursing assistant) in a nursing home or a public school teacher—to jobs where they can be as much or more money in less stressful jobs,” Ulrich told an audience of bankers and business executives. “Some of the people who work in your call center at your bank used to be third grade teachers. It’s just reality.”
This story was produced with funding from a coalition of partners led by Innovate Raleigh’s Independent Journalism Grant Program. N&O maintains full editorial control over the work.
NC bids for 18 major projects, economy chief says
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