Is North Carolina’s economy still changing?

Date posted: March 31, 2011

North Carolina’s economy has changed dramatically over the past several decades. Industries such as textiles, tobacco and furniture, which dominated the economy for generations, have been replaced by upstarts like technology, finance and health care. Is the transformation still occurring? N.C. State University economist Mike Walden responds.

“It is. … And this is an excellent question because I think this is sort of the forest that people don’t necessarily see because they are involved in their individual trees, their individual industries and companies.

“But we have had, as you indicated, a big change in our North Carolina economy really in a relatively short period of time — over the last roughly 30 years. Tobacco, textiles and furniture: dramatic reductions a decade ago. They were 8 percent of our economy. Now they are actually down more to 4 percent. The new industries that have been dominating the state in the last couple of years — technology, pharmaceuticals, finance, food processing and vehicle parts — they have grown just in the last decade from accounting for 15 percent of the economy up to 20 percent of the economy.

“But there is always change here, and, indeed, if you look at the most recent numbers — particularly for the last decade — we may have some new kids on the block in terms of economic powers. The information sector — that would include things like communicating information, the media as well as the internet — it is growing rapidly, as is the military presence in North Carolina. They may be part of our dominant industries down the road.”

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