Economists: NC needs to manage growth
Posted January 6
Durham, N.C. — Unlike the gloomy forecasts of recent years, economists were bullish Wednesday on North Carolina's prospects for 2016.
During an annual economic forecast forum hosted by the North Carolina Chamber and the North Carolina Bankers Association, a panel of economists said the state budget has stabilized, and the national recovery after the recession has helped to boost employment.
Still, they said the state needs to find ways to create jobs. Even though North Carolina has been creating jobs over the past couple of years, the 5.7 percent unemployment rate is higher than the national average because the state is growing so quickly, they said.
North Carolina topped 10 million residents late last year, and the state is projected to have 12 million people by the year 2030. That means more than 62,000 new jobs are needed every year just to keep up.
North Carolina State University economist Mike Walden said it's unclear what some of those jobs will look like, as many current jobs will be lost to technology.
"Technological unemployment may be the issue of the future," Walden said. "As many as half of the occupations will not be needed in 40 years."
Preparing for that change will come with a price tag.
SunTrust chief economist Greg Miller warned that North Carolina will need to spend more on education and infrastructure if the state doesn't want to be left at a competitive disadvantage, which could mean higher taxes.
"I'm a banker. I don't like taxes better than anybody else," Miller said, "but if you have to have what they're supposed to fund, they have to go up."
Gov. Pat McCrory said such growth is a good problem to have.
"Believe me, I'd rather be a state where there's migration to the state as opposed to a state where there's migration out of the state," McCrory said. "I'd rather deal with growing pains than dying pains anytime."
The governor took the opportunity of being in front of a room full of business executives to stump for the $2 billion infrastructure bond that's up for a vote on March 15. He also noted that the state may need another bond in a couple of years to keep up with transportation needs.
Lew Ebert, president and chief executive of the N.C. Chamber, credited McCrory and the Republican-led General Assembly for putting North Carolina in an enviable economic position moving forward.
"As a result of five years of pro-growth initiatives – tax, legal reform, regulatory reform, fixing the unemployment debt – you now have North Carolina in the best possible position to create new jobs, and that's probably the big difference in the past five years," Ebert said.