Wake County and the Research Triangle Region have witnessed the impacts of a national recession and weak recovery on our local job markets. Despite being branded as one of the “it” places, we found that we were not immune to national and global impacts. As the chart below shows, the recent recession resulted in a year, 2009, where fewer people in Wake County were employed than the year before.
The good news is that employment losses lasted only one year, and the rebound was quick and seems to be strengthening. From September 2011 to September 2012, Wake County’s employment grew by almost
18,000 people. The growth rate of 3.9% helped to reduce the unemployment rate to 7.0%, the lowest rate since January of 2009 and much improved over 8.4% a year ago.
So, are we back to normal? The chart clearly shows that there is no normal. That said, Wake County is positioned to continue to grow. Recently released projections for the next 20 years show the Raleigh-Cary metro growing at over 40%, adding 473,816 people between 2010 and 2030. Among North Carolina’s metropolitan areas, only Charlotte is projected to add more people and only Jacksonville to grow by a higher percentage. (When the Raleigh-Cary and Durham-Chapel Hill metros are combined, the population growth is higher than Charlotte’s)
Almost all the local news is encouraging. The rankings have piled up. It would be easy to conclude that the work is done and coasting is in order. But not only would that go against our culture, it would not be smarter all around. The only predictable thing about economic and global change is that it is constant and accelerating. Globalized capitalism is contributing to a complete restructuring of the corporate world and changing everything. Today, Wake County is truly competing with everyplace for jobs, investment, and talent.
So what do we need to do to strengthen our local economy and keep our jobs growing? Ask diﬀerent people and you are sure to get diﬀerent answers. At the Southern Growth Policies Board we use the following list as general characteristics of successful communities in the future.
• Strong leadership and connected citizens, with high social capital
• Nimble, and quick to act
• Works well with others and is able to build strong partnerships
• Quantified, credentialed talent with flexible training and retraining
• Continuously informed global view
• Collaboration and implementation capacity
• Really good at something
Many of these characteristics are already strengths of Wake County. When you get to more specific policies, politics and ideology matter, but here are some recommendations.
Focus on quantifiable skill upgrades for everyone in the population. Faced with global competition, certain skills have become devalued. In order to raise the standard of living of all citizens we must raise skills. This is complex and involves a group of policies to encourage some students to master middle skills; some advanced students to major in highly sought and highly rewarded majors; and existing workers to acquire new high-demand skills through retraining. Easily attainable information on occupational growth, salaries, and skill requirements is the first step.
Smartly invest in infrastructure. Public budgets will be tight for the foreseeable future, but businesses consistently list good infrastructure as a prerequisite for location and expansion. Water, sewer, transportation and communication infrastructure have to reflect the quality of the businesses that you hope to grow and attract.
Export more local goods and services. At a time when population growth, consumer consumption and government spending in the United States are all growing at very slow rates, bringing revenues to the region from outside the U.S. can create higher multipliers, and have greater impact.
Continue to work toward a balance between the cost of doing business and a high quality of place. This is not meant to be a catch-all statement. One of the strengths of Wake County and the Research Triangle region is that it has consistently had a high quality of place, but a competitive cost of doing business. Costs matter. Every study shows that high-cost places struggle to keep business. The balance comes from having enough public funds to provide the business-demanded services such as infrastructure, safety, and education with enough amenities to appeal to talent, and yet an acceptable cost of doing business. This is a continuous struggle and yet one of the keys to our competitiveness.
Remain responsive to business needs. Ask questions often and listen. In a time of rapid change, everybody has to understand their customer needs. Our businesses, our job creators, are faced with competition and we all have to do whatever we can to support them. Our support structures need to be more flexible, simpler, and faster. Return on investment is becoming the watchword for businesses, government and educators.
These four Wake “jobs” commentaries have several clear takeaways;
• Wake County is leading North Carolina in job growth and labor force growth and is consistently a national job growth leader.
• Wake County has the lowest unemployment rate among North Carolina’s metropolitan regions.
• The industry concentrations in Wake County and North Carolina have been shifting dramatically over the past two decades.
• Global trends are impacting all communities, but Wake County currently enjoys many competitive advantages.
• Projections for the next two decades show that Wake County will continue to grow and prosper.
Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce
800 S. Salisbury Street
Raleigh, NC 27601
Wake County Economic Development
800 S. Salisbury Street
Raleigh, NC 27601
Southern Growth Policies Board
P.O. Box 12293
Research Triangle Park, NC 27709