Top 8 industries that drive NCs economic engine

Madeline Gray—North State Journal
Margarita Villagarcia

RALEIGH — From tobacco and textiles to banking and biotechnology, our economy has transformed itself over the decades while maintaining the character that embodies the Old North State. Still, extensive transportation systems, a skilled and educated workforce, and a capital friendly environment endure in aiding the state’s growth of industry today.While many of the attributes that have helped grow the world’s 23rd largest economy live on, political considerations also remain a top business concern.. As we approach the 2016 elections, the top North Carolina industries naturally face the largest exposure to any dramatic shift in the political winds.The more things change, the more they stay the same, and agriculture is still a dominant industry. In a testament to both it’s economic and political relevance, a rally dedicated to it’s importance was held Thursday in Kenansville headlined by Gov. Pat McCrory, legislative leaders, and Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler.Contributing $84 billion to the the state’s gross domestic production, North Carolina leads the nation in production of tobacco and sweet potatoes, and enjoys runner-up status in poultry, turkeys, hogs and Christmas trees. In 2014, the state exported more than $4 billion in agricultural goods.Furniture is still a strong point in North Carolina too, boasting the largest furniture manufacturer trade show in the world.And North Carolina sports the largest textile mill industry in the country with companies like Hanes Brands and Burlington Industries employing ore than 30,000 people in the state.A low-tax environment, extensive transportation systems, competitive labor costs, a skilled and educated workforce, and the deep-water ports of Wilmington and Morehead City are all factors aiding the growth of these traditional industries, but also essential to the development of North Carolina’s newest industry clusters.Randy Ramsey, owner and founder of Jarrett Bay Boatworks of Beaufort, North Carolina exists at the intersection of the traditional and modern.A former charter boat captain, Ramsey built his first custom fishing boat in the 1980s, and his company, now one of North Carolina’s most successful marine businesses, combines the Down East heritage of boat building with the advanced manufacturing that undergirds so many of our state’s industries.When it comes to the election, Ramsay believes the economics cross all of the State’s industries, both old and new.”I think you could correlate us to any industry, to be honest with you,” said Ramsey about the boat building industry. “In this election we’re looking for people who understand the need for growth and the need for full-time jobs in our communities, and the stability of manufacturing in North Carolina.”Taxes, Ramsay said, were an important factor in any business endeavor.”The corporate and personal taxes being lowered has helped stimulate the economy, I believe, and put more money back into businesses’ pockets so they can continue to grow,” said Ramsay.As recently as Wednesday, the state was voted most improved since 2013 by the nonpartisan Tax Foundation in its State Business Tax Climate Index.North Carolina is also home to the nation’s second largest financial center. Bank of America, Fidelity Investments, Wells Fargo and First Citizens Bank are a few of the major financial companies that have major operations in the state.New leading industries like information technology have been thriving in recent years. The sector growth of 26 percent since 2010 gives North Carolina the second fastest growing IT industry in the country, according the the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC). The industry, including the likes of Apple, Facebook and Google, employs more than 126,000 people statewide, sourcing much of its workforce from the state’s leading universities.The well of educated workers from the universities and community colleges also staff companies like BASF and Biogen, two leaders in the state’s maturing biotechnology sector. The same can be said for the automotive and heavy machinery industry that utilizes customized training at community colleges across the state to augment a 30,000-plus workforce that has helped the industry grow 32 percent since 2011, according to EDPNC.Finally, North Carolina’s leading industry is aerospace and defense, with more than 180 companies, such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Spirit Aerosystems, leveraging the state’s outsized military installations footprint, and reapplying the ample training and skills of exiting service members in the private sector.Though this mix of old and new industry dominates the state’s growing economic output, the places North Carolinians are working give a slightly different perspective of which industries hit closest to home for many.Retail and trade companies like Wal-Mart and Lowe’s Home Improvement make up four of the top 10 private employers in the state. Manufacturing doesn’t even make the top 10. Other jobs leaders include banking giants like Wells Fargo and BB&T and healthcare networks like WakeMed Health and Wake Forest University Baptist Medical.Considering all of this, North Carolina voters may have a unique political perspective based on our mix of employers and leading industries, and thus could guide this them as the state navigates the course toward election day.