Like an old Christmas tree with brittle branches and thinning needles, 2022 has taken its place in the trash amid torn giftwrap, packing peanuts and empty Amazon boxes.
May old acquaintance be forgot? Seems we couldn’t kick 2022 to the curb soon enough.
From inflation to supply chain issues to bitter political divisions, those were a trying 12 months.
So time’s up. See ya. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
But in North Carolina and the Triad, in particular, 2022 was a hopeful year economically. Maybe more than hopeful.
Business Facilities magazine last week named North Carolina its “2022 State of the Year.” CNBC has ranked the state as “best for business.”
And 2023 could be better.
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So says the state’s point man for economic recruitment.
Christopher Chung, who heads the public-private Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, sees potential for a bumper crop of new jobs in 2023.
“Heading into 2023, the trend has stayed consistent from what we’ve seen over the past 18 months,” Chung said during the recent 2023 Economic Forecast Forum in Durham. “We’re continuing to see a large number of what we would call mega-projects.”
As Chung defines it, a “mega-project” commits to bring at least 1,000 new jobs to the state and invest at least $1 billion. The state is in the running for 18 such companies, he said.
And while being in the running does not guarantee success (how many times was North Carolina in the running for an auto manufacturer before finally scoring last year with the EV start-up VinFast in Chatham County?), it does mean the state is competitive.
And the bigger the pool of possibilities, the greater the chance for results.
Clearly one factor that has helped North Carolina has been the ability of North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature and its Democratic governor to work together on such projects as the Boom Supersonic aircraft plant planned for PTI Airport and a Toyota electric vehicle battery plant under construction at the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite near Liberty.
Make no mistake: Politics in the state are divided. But state leaders have, for the most part, put those differences aside when it comes to new jobs and industry.
Chung’s audience of nearly 1,000 applauded when he referred to the political détente in the state.
On a more local level, city and county leaders also are communicating better and collaborating more. When a German company in Greensboro was considering Winston-Salem as a possible site for its North American headquarters and manufacturing, Mayor Allen Joines alerted Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan.
So the eventual move to Winston-Salem never became a territorial issue. There was a suitable site for the expansion in Winston-Salem but not in Greensboro. And the jobs remained in the Triad.
But the biggest reason for North Carolina’s rising star as a destination for new companies is its growing workforce and its public universities and community colleges. Paired with the expanding workforce, the UNC System campuses (four of which are located in the Triad) and the state’s 58 community colleges give the state “a basis for a lot of opportunity,” said Tom Barkin, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.
This underscores the need to sufficiently fund higher education and K-12 education in North Carolina — an issue on which Democrats and Republicans do not agree.
In particular, Republicans prefer to sit on a surplus rather than fund K-12 schools sufficiently, which they should see as an investment.
Part and parcel of that is paying good teachers a decent wage for taking on a demanding, difficult and essential job.
Regarding the demand for talent in the state, Laura Ullrich, a Charlotte-based senior regional economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, said “people have shifted from quite frankly difficult, stressful, customer-facing jobs … to jobs where they can make as much or more money in less stressful jobs.”
That includes former educators.
“Some of the people who are working at your call center at your bank used to be third grade teachers,” Ullrich told the audience. “That’s just the reality of it.”
The upshot? We’re in a good place. We’d be in an even better one with smarter investments in our future.