RALEIGH — North Carolina fought its way back this year. With wins across multiple sectors of our economy – manufacturing, life sciences, biotech, tourism and small business — our state has consistently shown that we are again open for business and leading the nation with world-class opportunities.
This year, North Carolina ranked first overall on Forbes’ “Best States for Business,” and as of 2021, has experienced the third-highest net in-migration in the nation, following only Texas and Florida. Industry outlets, including CNBC, Site Selection magazine, the U.S. Travel Association, ranked N.C. among the best places in the nation to do business, start a business or spend vacation dollars thanks in large part to the post-pandemic pivots of lawmakers who partnered with communities to create incentives and support for statewide core industries and small businesses.
In the biggest business news of the year, Randolph County in December officially hooked the proverbial white whale of manufacturing deals that will have a regional impact for the foreseeable future. After nearly half a decade of courting various global companies, state officials announced that Toyota Motor North America plans to build a $1.29 billion electric vehicle (EV) battery production facility at the 1,825-acre Greensboro-Randolph Megasite (located in Liberty, N.C.), a KPMG-certified, shovel-ready site featuring what officials called “the ideal combination of strategic location, world-class workforce and unparalleled transportation infrastructure.” North Carolina is already home to the global headquarters of several top lithium companies including the world’s largest provider of lithium to the EV battery industry, the largest known hard rock lithium (spodumene) deposit in the U.S., and the highest concentration of advanced lithium processing experts outside of China, making it the ideal location for companies entering and operating in the EV ecosystem.
In addition to Thomas Built Buses and Arrival who are already manufacturing EVs in the state, North Carolina is home to more than 260 automotive suppliers and manufacturers. With EV sales in the world’s major car markets projected to grow at a compounded annual rate of 22 percent per year until 2030, the state is uniquely positioned to contribute to the adoption of, and benefit from the demand for EVs.
And in the Triangle, a deal with comparable impact came as Apple announced plans to build its newest research and development campus, slated to create 3,000 jobs in Wake County, with plans to invest more than $1 billion in the state by 2032. The company’s new project in North Carolina will create an R&D, Operations and Engineering hub in Wake County of at least 1 million square feet, powered 100 percent from renewable energy sources from day one, similar to all Apple facilities worldwide. In addition, Apple will set up a $100 million fund to support schools and community initiatives across the state.
Other successes across the state include: Thermo Fisher Scientific $154 million pharmaceutical manufacturing expansion into Pitt County; White River Marine acquisition of the legendary Hatteras boat brand, bringing significant investment to New Bern; SITE Next-Gen Coalition of the Triad named a finalist in national $1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge, designed to assist communities in post-pandemic economic development and manufacturing.
State economy chugs along
The number of self-employed and gig workers has grown steadily since the pandemic struck. Some economists attribute part of the nation’s labor shortage to an increase in people who have recently gone to work for themselves.
Among them is Daniel Nolan of Raleigh. Like millions of other Americans, Nolan, 36, had his life and work upended by COVID-19. His 9-year old son was in virtual school at the outset of the pandemic. And his father-in-law, ill with cancer, moved in with his family, prompting Nolan to leave his job as a software engineer at a private equity firm.
Nolan expected this period to last only a few months. But when he began looking for work again, the job offers he got weren’t what he was looking for. So in August, he decided to strike out on his own.
So far, Nolan said, he’s earning roughly the same income that he did before. He plans to keep consulting for at least two more years — and may never return to a corporate job.
“I’m able to make at least as much as I was making at my previous job and still have the flexibility of being a consultant,” he said.
In November the state’s unemployment rate fell to 3.9%, the state Commerce Department announced earlier this month, as employment surged by one measurement released by the agency.
The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate, which compares to 4.1% in October, continued its year-plus long decline after the state’s economy shook off the tightest COVID-19 lockdown and commerce restrictions from the first half of 2020.
North Carolina hasn’t logged a rising monthly unemployment rate since September 2020.
The number of people employed in the state grew in November by over 18,100 to more than 4.84 million, the department’s news release said, while those unemployed dropped by almost 10,200 to about 198,200.
Industry analysts and state officials agree that something we can all do to finish 2021 strong is to get out and spend money in our communities. The North Carolina Retail Merchants Association (NCRMA), along with its 2,500 retail members across the state, continues to encourage consumers to #ShopNC this year.
Many consumers are hearing of staffing and supply shortages that retailers are facing as the year wraps up. However, local business advocates note that retailers are prepared to go above and beyond to offer the customer service consumers expect from their favorite stores.
Over the challenges of the last twenty months and including the 2020 holiday shopping season, retailers learned to adapt their strategies to ensure they are serving customers safely and effectively.
“North Carolina retailers are geared up for this holiday season,” said Andy Ellen, president and general counsel of NCRMA. “For our independent retail store owners in small town North Carolina, the holiday shopping season is an extremely important time. For many of them, holiday sales will help them finish the year successfully they are excited to welcome customers into their stores.”
Ellen encourages consumers to shop local businesses, saying, “their commitment to their communities, where they live and operate, is strong and deep, and we hope shoppers will visit brick and mortar stores not only because of their excellent staff, superior customer service and the specialty products they provide, but also to give back to their communities, by keeping their money local.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.