‘Accelerated pace’ expected for NC economic growth in 2018

FILE: Amazon's campus in Seattle, Washington.

RALEIGH – With his statewide index of leading economic indicators having trended steadily upward for over one year now, NC State economics professor Dr. Michael Walden offers a forecast for sustained – even “accelerated “ – economic growth in the new year.  

In his December 2017 report, Walden notes that with the recent passage of the federal tax reform bill “greater confidence” exists for state and national economic growth. And based on opportunities and developments in some key areas around the state, many are betting on a very good year for doing business in North Carolina.  

Sports in 2018 business spotlight 

Some of the biggest business news for North Carolina in the coming year will be in the business of sports. 

With longtime Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson suddenly announcing in December his intent to sell the team in the wake of various personal and professional accusations, there has been intense speculation about who the next buyer(s) might be. 

Buzz has bounced from celebrities and players such as Sean “Diddy” Combs, controversial San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and Charlotte-native NBA star Steph Curry, to a handful of Charlotte’s business elite: real estate magnate Smokey Bissell, Family Dollar founder Leon Levine, members of the Belk (department store) family, and Bruton Smith, chairman of NASCAR affiliated Speedway Motorsports. 

Another development on the booming N.C. professional sports scene: an official MLS team and state-of-the-art metropolitan soccer arena have never been closer to becoming a reality, and 2018 will bring a renewed focus to the effort. 

When MLS announced the four finalists for their next two expansion bids in November – Sacramento, Nashville, Detroit and Cincinnati – the N.C. contingent, one of eight remaining prospects for two future slots, was sent back to the drawing board to revisit negotiations with state and local officials in Raleigh, where the proposed site for the dazzling $150 million arena straddles vibrant historic, government and retail districts. 

The pitch to the N.C. General Assembly to develop the largely state-owned land in downtown Raleigh has been a bit more nuanced and time consuming than North Carolina Football Club owner Stephen Malik anticipated. However, Malik says, “…we’ve chosen to take on that challenge because so many people believe it’s the right thing for Raleigh.” 

NC develops manufacturing potential in 2018 

While plans have not been finalized, state officials have been in negotiations to put North Carolina at the top of the list for a Toyota/Mazda automotive manufacturing plant in Randolph County. The deal could bring $1.6 billion in initial regional impact and nearly 4,000 jobs. Officials are optimistic about the prospect and compare the development to BMW’s 1994 decision to build a plant in Spartanburg, S.C., which generates close to $16 billion for the state each year. 

A deal inked in late 2017 will also bring much needed jobs and significant economic impact to rural Eastern N.C. as Chinese manufacturer Triangle Tyre plans to build two tire plants in Edgecombe County. The move is the result of $152 million in state and local incentives  – an arguably high price tag , but a gamble officials are willing to take for a region of the state with an unemployment rate of 6.9 percent, compared to statewide average of 4.1 percent. The first plant is slated to be fully operational by early 2020. 

Amazon HQ2 in NC? 

Perhaps the biggest business impact – one that would have a ripple effect across the entire statewide economy – is one that has generated nationwide chatter:  what city will become home to Amazon’s “HQ2?”   

The $5 billion Amazon headquarters project promises 50,000 jobs paying $100,000 or more annually over 15 years, and Charlotte, the Research Triangle Park and Triad areas are all vying for the opportunity to host the business giant that made Seattle America’s biggest company town. 

Critics worry that North Carolina might buckle under the rapid growth, while supporters are looking to strike while the iron is hot.  After all, North Carolina was named 2017’s “Best State for Business” in the U.S. by Forbes Magazine after 12 years in their top five.  

Among the 238 submissions from across North America, industry insiders have placed North Carolina within the top five for HQ2. Who knows? Maybe this is the year we break out of the top five list yet again.