What is driving NC’s “economic miracle”?

What is driving NC’s “economic miracle”?

N.C. State economist Mike Walden recently wrote about the “Big Five,” distinct and transformative industry sectors that are the drivers of our state’s economy.

The five sectors are:

  • Technology
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Finance
  • Vehicle parts
  • Food processing

These industries make up what Walden calls a “North Carolina Economic Miracle” because they have replaced the state’s traditional economic powers of tobacco, textiles and furniture. This renewal, unfolding for decades, has kept our state’s economy strong.

To be sure, the losses in some sectors have been profound, underscored just this past weekend as Cone Denim’s historic White Oak plant was closed. Walden writes, too, of the cross-currents that have affected tobacco production. And he expresses a common refrain of concern about the implications for rural communities.

Walden’s use of “Economic Miracle” is an echo of the previous era’s “Dixie Dynamo,” the phrase coined by a National Geographic headline writer in the early 1960s to describe the state’s economic prowess just as technology’s transformative promise was on the horizon.

Walden’s point about today’s economic movers is the same: North Carolina’s economy is resilient and dynamic. The reason, of course, is because our state’s people are innovative and industrious.

Look back at the “Big Five” list. The first four are most predominant in the crescent from Raleigh to Charlotte.

Walden writes: “At the farm level, tobacco was increasingly replaced by hog and poultry production. North Carolina turned into a high-tech, service based economy along with meat replacing crops in farming.”

Our farmers innovated. And the result is better wages and other economic outcomes in counties where hogs are raised and processed.

The pork powerhouse in North Carolina benefits a broad part of the state, too, supporting more than 46,000 full-time jobs and producing an impact on the economy north of $11 billion. This is seen not just in barbecue restaurants, but in the decision to build a candy plant in Orange County. (It sources inputs from the pork industry.)

Indeed, North Carolina’s pork industry is an important part of today’s economic miracle.

– Andy Curliss, CEO