Gov. Cooper speaks at NC Economic Outlook
Gov. Roy Cooper provides opening remarks at the North Carolina Economic Outlook as local leaders discuss the state's business climate.
Yeah, Good morning and welcome. My name is Abby Milat, market president and publisher of the Triad Business Journal. I'm here today with my co host, Jason Christie of the Triangle Business Journal and T. J. McCullagh of the Charlotte Business Journal. We're thrilled to have you join us for 2021 are three North Carolina publications have come together to create a Siris of informative discussions featuring different topics. Today's event is the first of these statewide programs, and we hope that you'll continue to join us throughout the year. As you know, the state of North Carolina is flourishing, attracting organizations and talent from across the world. This morning you will hear what's in store for businesses, local employers, what our biggest opportunities are and how the ongoing covert 19 pandemic will play into that trajectory. A few months ago, we launched a survey with our internal research team to our readers across the state. The intent was to get an idea of where people are specifically in the business community. As we enter the year, you will hear about these findings as well as insights from community leaders. In today's discussion, we will also publish a special publication in all three business journals on February 12th, highlighting data and information gathered throughout the process. Thanks, Abbi. While there's value and reflecting on 2020 benefit of doing so is really toe leverage what we've learned and to apply it to 2021. Candidly, many of us are ready to put 2020 and the rear view mirror and to forge ahead, often wiser and more strategic because of what we've been through. Our goal in conducting the survey was to gauge businesses confidence in the economy and in themselves as they entered the New Year, and to assess the opportunities and challenges they see ahead. The survey pool was evenly divided across the state, representing companies of all sizes, both in terms of employment and revenues and including broad diversity and the age of their businesses. Together, the owners, top executives and senior officials who responded to the survey paint a picture of hiring expectations, where and how to expect to invest and how they will operate differently in 2021 than in years past. That is strategic market intelligence that you can use and growing your own businesses. Thanks T J. Before we get started. We need to acknowledge the wonderful support we have for today's program. First Citizens Bank, headquartered in Raleigh and founded in North Carolina, is a family owned bank that is over 120 years old and just recently announced a merger with C. I T. Group. Today you will hear from Brent Siciliano, chief investment officer. Brent manages a team of investment professionals and overseas more than $20 billion in assets. He has more than 20 years of experience in portfolio strategy, portfolio management and investment banking. You'll hear from Brent momentarily. But first, let's learn a little bit more about this growing financial institution. There's not a secret toe what actually happens behind the scenes at a bank here? First Citizens. We're trying to educate the client in each step of what's actually gonna happen on actually have them make the educated decision around what steps and what options they utilize way want to become that trusted advisor that actually guides them down that road, helping you reach your goals. That's forever. First, our next sponsor this morning as High Point University High Point University has been a pillar in the triad community for a number of years and has led by president Dr Nida Kobane, who has been at the helm since 2005 and accomplished business leader and dedicated philanthropist Doctor Cobain, has led the university through an extraordinary transformation with major milestones, including increased faculty, the addition of 90 buildings on campus and increased enrollment by 245%. Under DR combines leadership, HP use net assets have grown to almost $1 billion. He serves on corporate boards for several Fortune 500 companies and as a member of the Piedmont Triad Partnership Executive Committee, he participates in discussions regarding industry recruitment and job creation, among many other important topics. Additionally, President Campaign has previously chaired the Economic Development Corporation and High Point in the High Point Chamber of Commerce. We will hear from Dr Cabin in a few minutes, but first, let's watch to learn more about this extraordinary Triad University on this campus, we are focused on preparing students for the world as it is going to be. There's a growth mindset in our institutional DNA. Hi, I'm Steve Wozniak. The laws and I'm proud to be high point universities innovator in residence. Hi I'm sent Marshall, CEO of the Dallas Mavericks, and I am proud to be high point universities, sports executive and residents. Welcome to HP. You. I'm Marc Randolph, and I'm proud to be the entrepreneur in residence at the premiere Life Skills University High Point University. Rounding out our sponsors for today's program is RS um R S M is an audit, tax and consulting firm. It is the fifth largest accounting firm in the United States, employing more than 11,000 across 86 cities nationwide. And in Canada today we have Steve Miniature, North Carolina growth leader and national industrial product specialist, who will also take part in the discussion. In addition to serving as an audit partner for privately held companies, Steve directs all growth activities for Rs M's six North Carolina offices. From 2015 to 19, he served as Ressam's national manufacturing industry leader, where he coordinated the firm's thought leadership. Go to market strategies and manufacturing research projects. Here is a video from RS Um, mhm, yeah, take every step without hesitation. Anticipate your next move with certainty because our trusted advisers help you prepare for challenges specific to your business. Our focus is always on you, so your focus is always forward. Experience the power of being understood. RSF ordered tax and consulting for the middle market now to provide opening remarks and his view of the economy and overall trajectory of North Carolina. We're delighted to have North Carolina governor Roy Cooper, who was sworn in for his second term earlier this month. Thank you for joining US Governor. Happy New Year, everybody First, I'd like to thank the publishers of North Carolina's regional business journals. The Triangle Business journals Jason and Kristy UH, Charlotte business journals, T. J. McCullagh and the Triad business journals Abby Millat. They're convening an important conversation about what to expect from our economy in 2021 Today you'll see plenty of numbers and statistics, some of them great, some of them not so good. But let me take a few minutes to talk about a few topics that affect our economy right here in North Carolina. And maybe it'll give you some food for thought as you implement your 2021 business plans. First of all, you should know that I vetoed the state budget last year. I rejected it in part because it didn't do enough to strengthen public education even though we had the money to do it. And it also didn't do enough to provide health care coverage to the more than 1.2 million North Carolinians who don't have it. I didn't like vetoing budgets, and our legislative leaders didn't like it any more than I did. We've agreed that we must work together, particularly as we emerge from this pandemic, and I'm committed to doing that. You've already started with a bipartisan health care coverage council and we're talking with each other. Ah, lot more as we enter into this new year, North Carolina needs to pay attention to our infrastructure. It's crucial to every single business person attending this event to sustain itself and grow. An economy needs roads and bridges, water and sewer and school facilities. And what we knew before, but it's been spotlighted during this pandemic is that we have to expend high extend high quality, high speed Internet access to every business and household in the state. I wanna work with the Legislature to put forward a strong bond referee rendering on the ballot for voter approval this year, while interest rates are aslo as they have ever been. We need to build or renovate universities, community colleges, public schools, water and sewer systems and extend broadband. We have upwards of 100 communities in North Carolina whose finances are on the brink, and it's mostly because they can't afford to fix the water and sewer systems that were built in the 19 sixties and seventies. And most of you know in business that if you don't have adequate water and sewer, you can attract new industry. North Carolina has significant debt capacity for a bond, and we'll get a lot for our money if we pass a bond. Now, with interest waits as low as they are in attention, I wanna make what may be a blinding glimpse of the obvious. Things are going to change right now. We're in what I suspect will be the toughest days of this pandemic. But the vaccines work and they're going into arms right now. It's going to take some time to get enough people vaccinated, but it will happen and then we'll face some fundamental questions about our economy. Well, we all go back to the office. Do we need different kinds of employees and we had before covered 19. Is there opportunity in this crisis? I think you guys will be best to answer the first two questions, but I know that there is opportunity in crisis if we can see it and sees it already. Dozens of North Carolina manufacturing companies have turned on a dime to produce gowns and face shields and Mass and mawr. Did you realize that they were already at least 55 companies in this state that air working on testing, treating or prevented coat Preventing Cove in 19? One of those companies, Thermo Fisher Scientific and Greenville, just announced an additional 500 new jobs. North Carolina is in the finals for a $2 billion investment by a company that's already here. Fujifilm Dyson. That company is making molecules to fight co vid, and they wanna make a lot mawr, and I want them to be manufactured here. CEOs in some parts of the country have had soul searching conversations during the past 10 months. Many of them decided it would be worthwhile to consider relocating to a state like North Carolina. They've seen the sound fiscal policies, the good education system, and they've seen steady, stable leadership that's guided the state through the pandemic. They've seen that we value diversity and inclusion. One CEO from California told me that his company already made decision to move. It's just a matter of where, and there are many more just like it. I mentioned in my inaugural address on Saturday that 100 years ago, in 1920 we were coming out of the Spanish flu pandemic. Nearly 14 0 North Carolinians died, But just a few years later, the state came roaring back with manufacturing leading the way, more people earned reliable paychecks. They bought cars that created another challenge. We had to build roads for them to drive on. North Carolina met that challenge and became the good road state. That cycle of challenge and response persists, and we owe it to ourselves to make the most of it. My job as governor is to ensure that businesses have the things that most can't provide for themselves. An educated workforce, infrastructure, a stable regulatory climate and strong leadership. I want you to know that I welcome your input any time on how to improve. We are a great state and together we can build a North Carolina that works for everyone. I wanna wish each and every one of you everything that you need to meet your revenue and profit goals for 2021 again. Thanks so much. And Happy New Year, Everyone, Thanks, Governor Cooper. Now, to continue on our data collection trend, we will have a SYRIZA poll questions we will post throughout the program. Be sure to engage as you see them come up. If you'd like to participate, just sign into the chat box on the right. Answers are anonymous and the percentage results will be released in the chat box during the program. Also, be sure to use the chat box to get engaged with the conversation. Now, before we get into the discussion, I want to share some highlights from the survey mentioned at the top of the program. We have some high level stats to set the stage for the discussion, determined from those who took the survey from across the state. Overall confidence in the economy was weak, with fewer than a third of the respondents confident in the local state. Our national economy over the next 12 months, however, respondents have much greater confidence in their own businesses, with 54% very or extremely confident in their operations. Outlook. Six out of 10 respondents expect their company to grow revenues in the year ahead, with the largest segment predicting growth of 10% or more. Overall, theme employer Soviet surveyed expect to ramp up hiring in 2021 on average, adding 31 full time employees. 10 part time hires in eight contractors. The top two areas where businesses expect to increase investments in 2021 are an advertising and marketing. And in technology adoption upgrades. Eight out of 10 respondents predict their businesses will be profitable in 2021 7 out of 10. Expect consumer confidence to improve, and nearly seven out of 10 expect their businesses to recover to pre coronavirus levels by the end of 2021. As you can tell by these stats, this is going to be a very interesting discussion. So let's get this started. Thanks T J. Leading this morning's conversation is Christopher Chung, chief executive officer with the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina. Chris Chung joined the E v p N. C in 2015 and has nearly 22 years of state led economic development experience as a public private partnership. The E, D, P. And C is responsible for a number of economic development functions on behalf of the state of North Carolina, including new business recruitment, existing business support, international trade and export assistance, small business startup counseling in tourism, sports and film promotion. Overseeing a staff of more than 65 professionals and an annual operating budget of more than $24 million Thebe, PNC is focused on improving the economic well being and the quality of life for North Carolina. Welcome to the program, Chris. Thank you, Abby. It's great to be with you all this morning again. Thank you so much to the business journals for convening us for this important discussion and great way to kick off 2021 with what we know, we're gonna be some valuable insights. Speaking of which, we're joined today by a very distinguished panel. If you don't know our Panelists already, this is going to be a great opportunity not only to get to know them, but also hear their thoughts about the year ahead. I would like to ask everyone to go ahead and please give a virtual welcome to Brent Siciliano, chief investment officer with First Citizens Bank. Dr Nieto Kobane, president of High Point University and Steve Moniker RS EMS, North Carolina Growth leader and national industrial products specialist. Gentlemen, thank you very much for joining and lending your time and insights to today's conversation. We've got about 50 minutes or so here for this panel discussion and a lot of questions to get through. I know they attend these today are eager to hear about what each of you is seeing in your respective areas, as well as what that portends for the year ahead. So without further ado, we're going to go ahead and jump right into the subject of today, which is, uh, your thoughts on 2021 some of the sentiments that we have coming out of this most unusual year behind us. I think all of you saw the Business Journal survey that was commissioned of business owners, company executives and the like, just asking their general thoughts on the year that's just transpired, as well as what's coming around the corner in 2021. I'm going to start off with each of you to share your thoughts on what you find most encouraging about those responses from the business community, especially the answers that were provided around employer confidence. Why don't we go ahead and start with you? Steve? What I think we saw this year related to the responses in the survey is that companies generally feel like they're going to do better because they can control what they've got in inside their own office or warehouse or factory on. So I think we're seeing the same things. What's really happened is the economy's become sector driven, that certain sectors and businesses will do better and some will not. We clearly saw the restaurant trade get hammered very early, But then we've also seen Pivot back to the some of the industrials, and they've recovered. So ultimately companies that we're able to both whether the storm and then see where their future was gonna be. We're able to really come out of this a little bit better than maybe they might have anticipated that the end of the year was a much better ending than some had thought. Right now about you, what are your thoughts as you look at the survey responses. Yeah, I would agree with Steve. I think it's it's very encouraging to see a lot of businesses think about revenues and profitability and the years that they might have in 2021. Because, as you think about it, lots of individual businesses encouraged with you know what they might see from a profitability perspective, then goes to a national level and then to a community, the community level. So it's very encouraging to say for sure, Dr Cabin, what thoughts do you have in terms of the positives as we look at the survey responses? Well, I'm very encouraged about what the future brings. I think this has been a very challenging year for all kinds of people, all kinds of sectors. But often out of adversity can emerge abundance. Just given example, Um, I'm privileged to serve on a number of corporate boards. One of them happens to be a furniture company, Lazy Boy Corporation, and when this year came about 2020 we literally had to furlough about 70% off our employees, and the others had to take significant cuts in their compensation. That's how bad things were. That's how scared people were. And yet all of a sudden, amazingly, as people stayed home, apparently they discovered they needed more furniture. So what is happening in the French industry now is that it's just tremendous growth, so much so that that backlogs are almost eight months, 10 months, which is unheard off in that sector. So I for one I observed at High Point University what happened? You know, we got scared for about a week or two. But when things get tough, the tough is gonna get going. And we concluded, Yes, there is a pandemic, and we choose not to participate. We're gonna have faithful courage and move forward. And what we've seen is that people respond. This is America, after all. And in America, people understand that there is tremendous hope for the future. So I see great things coming. And it doesn't mean they're not gonna be ups and downs, of course and challenges. But I think the future is very promising. Absolutely. And a couple of you touched on the resiliency that some business sectors have shown. We hear a lot about this K shaped recovery, for example, where things went down very quickly back in the spring at the onset of pandemic. But for some sectors, while they've bounced back very quickly, others have continued to bump along a two pretty depressed levels. Uh, let me ask a question. Resilience wise, each of you in your respective spheres, you interact with businesses that have actually been doing really well. Dr Cuban, you just referred to the furniture company who's born. You said on you could look at home improvement. You could look at manufacturers of RVs and campers. You could look at food and beverage companies that lots of different sectors doing well. I'm curious each of you when you talk to business leaders, what is the common trait among those companies or sectors that you regard is doing actually pretty well or even thriving in spite of the pandemic? Are there specific ways that they've approached it, or is it something unique about their business model or their industry? Maybe in this case, won't we start with Brent? Yeah, So I think certainly, you know, those in the industrial and manufacturing side those that are producing you know, goods and things that were consuming seem to be doing really, really well and not being able to keep up with demand where those certainly in the services side of the economy have seen a little bit of, ah downturn. But I think most of the people that we've talked Thio have not over thought their businesses. They've really gotten and focused on not overthinking their strategy, getting back to basics and thinking and focusing on execution, and that's really helped them out in 2020 it's likely to help them out in 2021 as well as they begin to recover more fully great point, just sort of focusing on what they can control Dr Calvin. Besides the example of furniture companies benefiting from increased consumption, other businesses industry Is there something that you see in common among those companies have actually done pretty well over the past 10, 11 months. We'll think about think about trucking transportation as in trucking, for example. Um, they've done very, very well because people stayed at home and there's a lot of delivery thing about the Amazons of the world and so on. So e commerce on displaces like and sectors like trucking have done quite well on and and I don't know how much of that will stay the way we way Think of it today. But I do believe that at the end of the day, it's making sure you have the right talent is making sure that people have a degree of grit and courage. Otherwise, if you fall apart, if you assume this is the end, then the future is very, very difficult to try to improve, right? So I believe that I believe that a number of industries gonna do very, very well. I'm also on a financial institution boarding on a on ah healthcare board, and we've seen the ups and downs, obviously in the last year. But we're very optimistic about 2021 beyond. Great. Thank you, Um, and Steve one. What we get your thoughts on this obviously are, Sm advises a lot of companies mid market, large, small everything in between those companies that you feel like have successfully navigated 2020. What commonalities you think really define those successful industries or businesses? Chris, There are some characteristics that I think were consistent amongst those that were able to come out of this in a better shape. They were agile. They were able to adapt to the market as changes happened in what happened the first month is not what was happening the second month we saw companies really managing their cash, the ones that when it borrowed more money for citizens, is probably thrilled. Uh, they protected their positions. They reduced expenses faster than they were losing their revenues. Uh, we saw companies also the speed to make changes. I think that's a problem. Sometimes companies have a little paralysis if you can make those quicker decisions in this environment, the ones that did survive in the last piece was really around leveraging technology. It will probably be a theme I'll speak to today. The companies that thrive had leveraged and used technology to their advantage is whether they pivoted the restaurant's going toe delivery when they really weren't in that space, where the distributor who is now going direct to consumer on even the manufacturer, who is now looking at how they source and connect with their customer of those four little characteristics with consistent themes. We saw very good and it took us about nine minutes and 15 seconds for that word of 2020 to come up Steve, you get the credit for saying the word pivot. That's certainly a word that has defined business practices things past year. Speaking of which, I'm gonna highlight one very interesting response from the business journal survey. 62% of respondents said that Cove in 19 has spurred changes to their business model or their strategy, and that those changes have actually had a positive impact on their businesses. I'm curious what changes each of you as business leaders has made in your organizations. And how much longer do you anticipate applying these lessons to your approach in 2020 and beyond? Are these short term or these long term would love to hear what each of your own unique perspectives is on those types of, I guess, pivots or new approaches. And maybe we'll start with you. Dr Kobane. Well, number one, as Steve said his technology, right? So we went from an in person institution with 7500 people on campus toe having to immediately go to, uh, you know, virtual learning, right? This is not an easy thing to do. Thank goodness we had the basis for it and the fundamentals in place, and the people who had to know how, But even then, we had to do a tremendous amount of flexibility to make it work. I do think that has a long term value for our institution, as it is for for many others. Secondly, I think it gave us a really good time to to to sort of, analyze, dissect and conclude where we can be more productive. Where can we be more efficient? Organizations have a way of getting a little comfortable, and in times like these, you're forced to think not just about cutting budgets. You know, that's that's sort of problem solving that has a that has an immediate value. But then terms from in terms of long term thinking, we're looking for solution, finding right. How can we do things better? How can we make him faster? How can we give not only value, which is a commonly used word, is, you know, in business but appreciated value. In other words, you're gonna make sure that the value that you're rendering is truly appreciated by those you render it for. And so I believe that universities air not unlike businesses that we've had to analyze and dissect what those things are and how can we put them in place for? For the long term. Great thoughts. Thank you, Dr Campaign. Steve, how about you at RS? Um what sorts of changes have you all made That you anticipate actually going well beyond 2021 in terms of sticking around? You know, we made the quick pivot like everybody else to the remote work environment. 11,000 people across the country all of a sudden had to work from home. We had to adapt. I think the biggest challenge has been, uh, how do we connect with our clients and others in the marketplace? Relationships we all like to think we're in the relationship business. And building those relationships when you're looking at a video is a little bit of a challenge in case. So we were trying to be creative. The other thing, I think that's probably been the biggest change will be how we connect with our team members. Uh, they've gotten usedto working remote. They've gotten used to the flexibility and so I think there will be a permanent change and how we connect. We had just committed to more space in our Charlotte office. And maybe in hindsight, we maybe we didn't need it, but we'll just have to adapt to that as we go along. We think will grow into it. Uh, how do we work with our employees and keep them connected? Probably the longer term challenge, I think, will face not for the next month, but a year from now. How did they feel connected to our culture? I don't have a good answer for that right now. Great point, Steven. I'd love to come back to that culture question here right after this one because it is something that I think as we turn the calendar into 2021. A lot of organizational leaders were thinking, Okay, we are going to come back in some form or fashion. How do we keep that fabric intact of what defines our organization? But before we do that, Brent long term changes that you all anticipate staying around at First Citizens Bank. Yeah, I would have echo what you know. And Stephen said, You know, certainly you know, the remote meetings, the virtual meetings and communications, and certainly First Citizens Bank is obviously squarely in the lending business. But ah, lot of what we do is advice advice, creation and communications. So being able to stay close with clients and customers, saying close to colleagues and being able to maintain an environment that they feel connected, that they feel close and we can continue to do that, I think that's something that's going to be sticking around for quite a while. It's certainly enabled us from an operational efficiency to be ableto leverage. So instead of maybe traveling six hours round trip to go see a client, some of our subject matter experts conspire. End you know, ah, half on hour now or do multiple meetings in a day. And I think that that's technology and communication that's likely to be around for quite a while. I certainly don't think it's ever going to replace being face to face with clients and customers and colleagues, but certainly it's a it's a narrow in or quivers, respectively. To be able to increase that operational efficiency, great appointments. Well, let's go back to culture because it really each of you has hinted at if if not explicitly talked about that dynamic within your organization's. Let's set aside the need to be in person with clients and customers, but really just keeping intact those values that any organization should be sharing to be successful. How do you do that? Going forward, knowing that at some point we will probably all be coming back to some in person work experience. But there's gonna be a strong pressure toe. Do some of that virtually. How will you, as an organizational leader, keep driving that common culture that binds your teams together? And why don't we start with you on your thoughts there on how first citizens will approach that question? Certainly this pandemic in the way that we all work and communicate with each other and the way that you have thio demonstrate thoughtful and effective leadership has absolutely changed. And I think it's certainly, uh, challenges a lot of leaders to do things effectively, to maybe communicate and act and manage their teams in different ways. And they had done before. I think it's a positive. I think what it's ultimately going to do is, you know, for a lot of leaders that you have being able to see who's able to pivot and change and dynamically adjust to the environment, sort of, you know, takes to the next level. Some of the leadership that you have and being able to bring them up to higher levels in the organization. But I think it's it's sort of challenging the way that we think and execute in this environment, and I think that, uh, that's business and that's life. It's never static. It's constantly changing. We all have to adapt to what's thrown at us, and that's what makes us good leaders absolutely great point Steve, You said 11,000 employees nationwide for our SM, including a good number there in in North Carolina. How do you keep that culture intact? Moving forward, Of course. We're trying to think about it a little bit different. If you try to manage the whole group at one time, you're gonna fail. So I think companies need to break down their employee groups into smaller segments where they can try to get close. Originally, I was trying to have breakfast with some people not crowded. We'd sit outside. The weather has gotten cold so a little bit harder. We've done some pizza nights and try to have a beer tasting and try to connect a little bit that way. I just heard a number this morning in Charlotte with with some terminations as well as new hires. We've added 75 new people to our Charlotte roster since June. Those people have never set foot in our office, and the challenge will have is how do we connect with them? So we're trying toe to do that into smaller increments, groups of four or five to get together either virtually or hopefully sometime it. Soon we go outside one of the brewpubs in Charlotte or other places connect. It's gonna take real effort. And if it's not intentional, I think companies will really miss the ball. Absolutely, but you're not. Spring will be here, hopefully, just in a matter of weeks. But But you bring up a great point. Is that for a whole new generation of folks entering the workforce right out of college, this virtual environment is actually defined their workplace experience so far, which is just a mind boggling thought. Dr. Kobane, how about, you know, organizational culture is a huge part of the success that you've driven at High Point University. How do you keep that intact going forward? Well, you know, for me, culture building is about the three CS first one is about clarity. What are our values? What do we believe in? What are we trying to do? What we need are people to do. How do we get them to believe in what we stand for? Right? That clarity that everybody understands? Certainly that management understands the second one has to do with connecting. It's a dramatic difference between communicating with someone and connecting with someone. So connecting with someone really is the answer to the question. How much this person feel first. So this person will do what I need them to do to connect with them, sort of emotionally and and spiritually, not just simply mentally, and the third one is about continuity. Is the leaders ability to drive the message over and over and over again because I think while it's been very difficult, you know, working remotely and I'm on the board of a corporation. Stephen Charlotte and we had about 35,000 people working remotely, and others, of course, had to show up to work. It is a very tough thing, but I always remind our people is that physical separation is only one of our challenges. It's emotional separation that's going to cause us more challenges. So working from home, not working from home, coming to the office, those are part of the part of the issues. But I think the bigger issue is how do we keep the corporate cumulative direction and strategy and thinking and Successfactors working together in a way that strategically instead, AGIs Stickley can can get a congruent answer that's going to take, ah, continuous process off connecting with people with clarity. Absent that, I think you'll see in six months we'll have another challenge to deal with. There'll be another issue and, God forbid, will have another recession. And all of a sudden nobody forgets about all these things and start clamoring towards just making payroll. So I think we have to be stronger. We have to think deeper. We have to understand people's our employees, our associates, aspirations, fears, goals. Uh, if we really are two to motivate them and inspire them to move in a direction that can help the cumulative corporate goals come to be. Chris. A quick point. You mentioned three seats. You have three sees our firm has five sees there's actually gonna be a 61 I'll add which is creativity. I think companies need to really get creative in this environment about how do you connect My My son was interviewing for a residency medical residency, and they just had doctors sitting with their masks on talking into a camera. It was really bizarre, and I think if they had just done something very a little differently, they find a way to connect using video. But finding new ways is really gonna be important going forward. Absolutely, absolutely great point. Let's turn back to the survey responses again. Encourage everyone in the audience to to dive down deeper after today's session in tow. More detail in those questions as well as the responses. They're really, really illuminating in terms of perspectives. What concerns each of you looking at that wealth of data about how companies are bracing for the year ahead on Baby, we'll start in this case with Dr Kobane. Well, you know, we think of higher education as a non profit organization, but make no mistake about it, we have all the elements that a company would have that a for profit would have in the sense that we have people. We have a product that we serve called education. We have systems that we have to adhere to and manage on a daily basis. We have performance too levels to reach and so on. So so for me, the most important thing about the survey is asking this question. You know, Are we preparing people for the world as it is going to be? And the survey addressed that in so many different ways. Right here is one of them, um, for me, you know, we're leading. We're leading young people, hopefully to goto work at at these wonderful corporations and others. And and to do so, we had to make sure that we are arming them with life skills. The survey clearly suggest, and by the way, it's suggested it in the triangle market in the Charlotte market and in the triad market is amazing how all three ah geographic locations pretty much said the same thing. And what they essentially said is that companies really care, I think, was 82% or so off. Respondents said that the company is really care about life skills. Ah, lot mawr than just technical skills. That doesn't mean technical skills are not important of course, that's a that's a prerequisite to doing one's job. But, you know, we on higher education have to acknowledge that we have to be pragmatic and practical and to ensure that our graduates, as they enter the business world they're bringing with them value that is, you know, the figure it out value right away, know how to think, have a growth mindset, have an entrepreneurial approach to what you do, not just the workers mentality. So I think what stood for me are the survey is the need. Or one of the things that stood up for me of the survey is that we need to ensure that our employees have the life skills necessary to do their jobs well and then to somehow build a bridge between them and the customers, the clients, the associates with whom we work with internally and externally. Excellent observation is definitely that That was another notable finding in the survey showing perhaps a bit of a perceived disconnect between what employers are looking for or valuing versus what they see new graduates coming out of, in many cases besides that particular concern. Uh, Brian, how about you looking at all those different responses from the business community. Anything stand out for you is being a bit of, ah, yellow or red flag. I definitely agree on the labor side having life skills and absolute maust, but I think it wasn't just in the in the in the local survey. But if you think about it on a national level, if I look at sort of the n F I B. You know, the National Federation of Independent Businesses had similar survey results related to quality of skilled labor and being able to actually feel outstanding positions. It's hard enough to attract talent on and retain that talent, but there there seems to be a lack of of skilled labor available for employers. Thio actually execute and run their businesses, and that's not just a local thing we're seeing that is coming up. Is the number one concern for businesses across the country is not being able tohave skilled labor. So uh, continues to be pervasive problem. And if I mean it really is interesting, I mean, sitting at an unemployment rate nationally, that's probably 3% or so higher than it was a year ago. At this time, you would think that that would resolve itself. But no, in fact, that skills gap continues to persist. Uh uh, Steve, how about you Concerns that you see in the responses from the business community as the c p. A looked at, some of the was thinking about the numbers on the number. What stood out to me was the commitment and the investment when the focus that companies wanted to make around marketing. I have seen over my many years that companies sometimes go blindly into well, if we need to drive sales. We've seen a real negative effect this year. We need to drive sales. We need to spend more marketing. We need to hire more people on. We did our own survey within our firm in what we found is companies that we're investing in leveraging technology to get closer to their customer. We're the ones that were really going to get ahead. And so I guess maybe my warning was is don't blindly throw money that marketing and advertising and hiring going with a plan on leverage, the data that you have in order to get ahead, just be a little bit cautious because sometimes we see companies just spend a little bit too much money. And I know Anita you wanted toe make a comment with the topic. Thank you for being my friend and letting me in the Esso. So the point I was gonna I was making is that it's not just about new graduates that we have to be concerned about. The fact is that we have to educate and we educate our associates and partners and employees and reeducate ourselves continually because the world is changing, right? So what? We know what I've known in my business career in the last 30 40 years. There's not necessarily make me capable, uh, to deal with every issue that comes ahead of, for example, technology is a whole new world, right? So I've had Thio get new skills. And when we talk about skilled labor, e think we have to be very cautious about the whole thing in the survey about technical skills versus personal skills, if you will Life skills, those are very important factors and they're different. And I don't know that we're preparing people very well in the life skills. And there's a reason for that. And the reason is that the teachers if you will, whether they're internally in corporations or whether they're in education institutions. And I say this very respectfully are not necessarily experts in that field. And that's why it is important to to tap into the rial stuff, right, education that is meaningful. That actually brings us to the results that we want. And I think that is a You know, I was a consultant is, you know, for 35 years to lots of corporations across the country, and my company built all kinds of businesses, including for citizens. Incidentally, back in the in the nineties, the reality of it is it's a very tough thing to do to It's easy to say we're gonna build a culture. It is very tough to do to build it from the inside out. It has to be visceral. It can be the boss saying We will be this. We will be that it has to be that people believe in it and therefore they give you the very best. And that's really a psychological and has a lot to do with growth, mindset and and entrepreneurial thinking and and a desire to accomplish something so different world than just knowing how to do stuff, albeit engineers C p A s doctors instead of must have skills in their discipline. No one argues that point, but But they will tell you in some cases, that sometimes they don't have all the skills necessary to build that culture we're talking about. Which is why the smartest among leaders or those who surround themselves with the variety off expertise levels so that collectively we do have at least most of the answers. Mhm. Great point. And your response makes me think that whereas before the pandemic, a lot of organizational leaders. Of course we're talking about culture in some cases, perhaps a little bit more pro form A than others. But I think this pandemic has definitely forced pretty much every leader of any organization to really take a hard, seriously look at How do you foster, uh, successful culture? Given the tremendous shifts in behaviors that we've seen over the past year. Okay, well, we're about halfway through the panel discussion. I've got some individual questions for each Panelists. Obviously, the other two Panelists are more than welcome to weigh in, but these air targeted at individuals based on their area of expertise. Steve, I'm going to go ahead and start with you. You look at one of the survey response questions on. Of course, employers have one level of confidence in how quickly the national, state and local economies will rebound on. Yet they have a very different level of confidence in their own business or companies likelihoods or prospects for success in the coming year. How do you explain that difference? How do you reconcile those those differences in level of confidence that these business leaders expressed? Typically, Chris, I think people answer questions based on what they can control. And when you get inside one business, you can control most of the issues that are going on. And as you start thinking nationally or statewide, you then get into the mess that we're seeing in Washington D. C. These days, we don't have confidence that that the government can lead us in the right direction. So as a result, I think you start to see some waning decreases. So what it really means to me is I think companies wanna be left alone. They don't want a government or people getting involved in their business. They'd rather control their own destiny. And when we weigh, see the noise from the outside, whether it be increasing regulations, higher taxes, multiple issues, lower taxes. Uh, all those things can really have a negative effect. Point Brents. Similar questions. Slightly different approach. Again looking at the server responses, How do you reconcile the high percentage of employers that are looking to increase their cash reserves? How do you reconcile that with their response on just how much confidence they have in their own company's performance in 2021? Yeah, Chris. I mean, I think it actually makes an awful lot of sense in one of the number one concern that was expressed in the survey, I think was upwards of 80% were concerned about another national shutdown. And if you think about how that might impact one's business, there's actually two really important surveys and studies done last year, one by the New York Federal Reserve Bank and another by Thean F. I B. The National Federation of Independent Businesses and the N F. I. B. Did a survey and asked small and medium sized businesses. How much cash do you have on hand to handle a potential shutdown or decrease in revenues for a certain period of time. The study and survey came back, and small to medium sized businesses, on average, have less than two months of cash burn to be able to cover themselves if they had a decrease in business. The the New York Federal Reserve did a similar type study and said If you had a two month significant revenue decrease, what actions would you take for your business and hands down? The number one response by small, medium sized business owners was to use their own funds to cover the revenue shortfall. A distant second was to decrease owner salaries and employee salaries and income, and a very, very distant third was to take on additional debt. So, you know, with this second wave coming and now potentially even a third wave, it's completely understandable that businesses would be potentially stockpiling a little bit of cash under the fear of potentially another shutdown to their business and a loss of revenue. Chris. Thank you, Brent. Uh, Dr Cabin, Um, actually, it was moderating a panel of the other day with Doctor Woodson at N. C. State University, and this same question came up way. Certainly, we're going to see many employers actually ramp up hiring in 2021 especially as the pace of the recovery accelerates. Uh, what changes do you see in the specific skills and competencies that you believe employers were going to emphasize in a post covert world? You talked a lot about life skills and things like that. So maybe just asking you to dive down a little bit more deeply into what are those specific attributes that you you see employers really valuing. But, you know, and knowledge does not equal understanding, right? Let's begin with that premise. So you can you can go to school and get all the degrees you want. Read all the books, attend all the seminars on, have all the knowledge in the world. It is not, therefore automatically follow that you understand. It's like saying, I haven't idea, but I don't know how to execute on the idea. So you have a disconnect there, and I believe that the companies today are looking for employees who first and foremost have a mindset, a mindset that says I can learn. I can I can be flexible. I certainly can be resilient in the times of change that might face me. Questions. How do you teach that? I actually show a power slide that has 30 behavioral, um, qualities, if you will. And I asked the question, How many of those do we actually teach on a college campus? And how many of those does a company really focus on as they develop and evolve that employees? And how many of those do we are they? Even teachable skills are the skills that you pick up in life itself, with the people who hang around with the environment you grow up in on DSO. I do believe that the world is very competitive and in this competitive world that is changing so fast that employees today better known how to how to fit into a company, how to adapt, what the company needs, how to understand market conditions. And all of that comes to your desire to learn to grow, to have a growth mindset, the fixed mindset. People are going to die on the sidelines, whether it's a company or or an institution of higher learning. I teacher hype, University of Class for all the freshmen, I teach a class for all the seniors and the premise of the classes. You were born for a purpose. You're supposed to be extraordinary. And so you mess it up by not doing the things that you need to do. Like, for example, learning every day. Who you who you hang around with, defines where you become the circumstances in which you find yourself. Do not define where you end up the Onley Define where you start. And I think cos they're looking for individuals who can who can stand up and stand out and be counted in the moment of need How we teach that, how we go about that, how we identify that, how we profile that are all disciplines that we know a little something about. And perhaps we all need to polish those even more. E think that's gotta be really encouraging for business leaders to hear you. Your take on that you feel like that sentiment is shared broadly or as broadly as it could be in the higher education space. Well, now, look, I I come from business, right? So I'm unusual College president in that sense, I came to my undergraduate alma mater. It wasn't doing very well and we literally quadrupled the size of the school, the enrollment of the school and and went from just undergrad degrees, the doctoral programs and all the rest. And we've done very, very well. Even in this pandemic, our enrollment grew by 5.6%. We were entirely in person, and everybody was telling me it can't be done. But remember, I'm an immigrant, right? You can't tell me it can't be done. I believe America is still the land of opportunity. And so is it commonly seen that way? Regretfully, No. Right, because academia is focused on the essence off learning and the essence of knowledge. And that, of course, is very, very important and very foundational. I always say this. We think off, think off academic matters as the Mona Lisa and think of everything else as the frame around the Mona Lisa. So what I actually brought the High Point University is a further recognition and understanding off the frame. How do we make what we do? Appreciate It applied, accepted, and therefore we get the rewards in return. But I think it's becoming mawr and mawr. You know, understanding and college campuses that we have to prepare individuals who can go out there and from the get go. Be ready to, uh, to to meet the needs off businesses today. E a little bit brighter. Steve, You want chime in on that issue of college graduates and what they're being prepared to learn? Well, I think what we need to do is make sure that we're challenging or people. So if we have young people that come to work for us and we just say, Do what we've asked you to do and don't create those new opportunities for him and challenge them to get uncomfortable, they're not going to grow. And so I think Azzawi look at positions. You ought to be prepared to take over the person who is above you. And if you're not working in that direction, you're not gonna make any of that growth in this environment that's even more challenging to do that. But I think all companies need to figure out how are you trying to challenge your employees to get to the next level or to add new skills? And if you'll do that, I think we'll move forward, and if not, we're gonna lose them to the company that does challenge. Yeah, I would completely agree, uh, Chris, with what Stephen said. And I think if you think about the learning Period Pyramid and you think about where most people actually gain their learning it, it's on the job. So having that that that e que as well as I Q. To be able to, to learn how to learn and be able to embrace everything and all of your life's experiences that that that that part of your intellect is something that we need to continue to develop because you I I personally believe you learn more from your failures in life than you sometimes learn from your successes. I think sometimes, uh, in the world that we live in today sometimes, uh, learning from failures somewhat shunned or looked down upon, and people who want to focus on giving kids trophies and and and focusing on, you know, the successes in life where I think most people need to to see the balance of that. I think we can help them as they continue to grow, especially in our organization. Great. Well, thank you. Question for all three of you. The Steve referred to this earlier in terms of level of trust and confidence people have in the government that serves them. We are, of course, on the cusp of of a new administration in Washington, D. C. Both at the presidential level as well as now at the congressional level. Political and policy debates obviously always going to have an impact on business, no matter the year. But this is a really unique year. We've just wrapped up in a really unique year. That we're entering here is we hope for recovery, uh, curious on everybody's thoughts on how to your organizations or the companies that you advised. How are they preparing for some of these changes of landscape on discussions at the national? And if you want the state level relative to policy and legislation that affect the business community? And why don't we start with you, Brent? Yeah, sure. So maybe just to shine some some perspective on where we are. From the governmental perspective, I look at the last 92 years of government. The governmental control that we have right now, a Democratic president and all Democratic Congress is the most commonly occurring form of government that we've had in the last 92 years, so basically 34 out of 92 years, or 37% of the time, we've had complete Democratic control. After that, it's a Republican president and in all Democratic Congress, which is about 22 of those 92 years. So when you put it all together, you've had Democratic majority control about 62% of the time over the last 92 years. Now, certainly, there's a lot of challenges that we're dealing with right now. Pandemic, unprecedented amount of monetary and fiscal policy stimulus and things that we're going to need to do and adapt to. But, um, to think that things might be different than what we've experienced over the last almost 100 years. Sometimes human beings are our behavior. Lee predisposed to think things are going to be significantly worse than what they actually are and conversely better than what they actually turn out to be. And I would say with, as it relates to the fiscal side of things, this pandemic has truly, uh caused a significant amount of fiscal stimulus to kind of put it into perspective right now. As of the end of last year, we have about 14 0.2% off all US. Real GDP is fiscal stimulus. We're about $18.56 trillion in real GDP. We still have another fiscal policy that's likely to kick in in February issue of this year on the consumer and corporate side to get us to the other side of this pandemic until the vaccine can really kick in. That's about 700 billion toe a trillion. And then there's a broader package that's likely toe come later in the year that focuses on infrastructure, renewable energy, state and local relief. And pandemic relief is well, which could be, I mean, so the estimates are all over the place. It could be in the trillions of dollars. So you put that all together. We're in an unprecedented environment of fiscal stimulus, and there's not really an end in sight, just my mind boggling numbers when you sit down and then break it out like that, if it really is pretty incredible. Doctor Kobane, obviously as a private university, not as impacted by by federal of, you know, education funding, state education funding, but what's your take on the policy landscape as we as we get ready here for a new era in Washington D. C. Of governmental control. Well, as you know, even private institutions are impacted by all kinds of government regulations. Uh, maybe not exactly in the, like, the public sector, but But we're certainly influenced tremendously by that. And we have to resource for it, you know? Think think, Title nine. Think all kinds of all kinds of regulations that we have to do. But, you know, I've I've been on a on A on a bank board for 30 years, and I have seen the impact off regulations on financial institutions Uh, some good and some not so good. I've seen a spend hundreds of millions of dollars just trying to adhere to and follow regulations, which is certainly not in the best interest of shareholders more often than not. And so, um, times come and times go and and you're right about about, you know, Democratic administrations under public. But if I look over whatever it was 90 years or 100 years, I think there's been quite a shift in And what Democratic? You know, administrations think what Republican administrations think. You know, Bill Clinton administration may be quite different than somebody else's point of view and so on. At the end of the day, though, at the end of the day, the question really is how do we survive and thrive regardless, what the atmospheric is right? Regardless, how can I survive in in any zone? That's what we ought to be working towards. And there's an answer to everything. And federal regulations, especially when they are damaging to business, do not last forever because there are repercussions that come out of that and they will be adapt ations that that somehow offset that. So I from one I don't worry too much about that because I I believe in the fiber and the fabric of our society, and I believe that we have. We have, you know, sensible people. When others go away this way or that way, sensible people come into the middle. And so the university, you know, we're ready for it. No, no big deal. As long as we take care of our students and their parents are happy and their employers were happy with what we're doing. I believe wholeheartedly we will do just great. Great point. No doubt either Steve, How about yourself? Clients of our SM What are you advising them on? How things change, if at all, at the national level. So a very big part of our practices advising people on taxation. Everybody wants to pay the lowest amount of tax they can within the confines of the law. And so that creates opportunities. Eso A lot of the changes we saw in both 2000 and 18, 19 and 20 were very good for our business, but they create challenges and uncertainty for businesses that we're working with a Z we go into this current year. There was clearly an expectation that President Biden and his agenda would be they needed to rise, raise revenues, increased tax rates. Uh, right now we're talking a little bit beforehand. We're not quite sure that's gonna happen because there's so many other things that are going on right now. Do I think the infrastructure bill will take place in some of my opportunities to be in Washington, D. C? I don't think that's going to get done. Lots of talk. There's been lots of talk about it for years. What I think companies need to do is focus on what you can see on we're advising. I think people as we look thio this year execute the transactions that you would normally execute. Make the business decisions that you should based on what you know today. And if they change, will they make a pivot at that time? Bring up a good segue way to the next question and maybe we'll start with you on Steve. It start with you, Steve. So as our SM listens to its clientele, what are you hearing most of them talk about in terms of what their focus is? What are they going to invest in in this coming year? Both to bounce back as quickly as possible from the pandemic, but also as a hedge against future policy changes at the national level? Future pandemics, your future black swan type events that we all saw over this past year? What is it that your clients we're taking a look at doing? The largest place that we're seeing a shift and has been growing for our firm has has been technology, whether it's outsourcing, the hosting of your technology cybersecurity. Clearly we're seeing all kinds of challenges, but really it's about getting information. How do you use the information you have within your walls within your business to build better relationships? So it's kind of a term I've used is get close. You need to get close to your customers. Do you need to get close to your suppliers, Whoever they may be, whether it be, uh, services or product, you need to get close. Thio dealing with critical issues around technology as well. Of what is that information gonna tell us? That we can make the changes in the business that will drive more revenues with our existing customers and allow us to us and we make more money, right. Thank you, Steve Brent again. Question for you. The effects of the pandemic, of course, that they've kind of they've had a pretty significant impact on that relationship between employers and their employees. Do you see any changes that come out of this period in terms of compensation benefits, how employers provide a safe and healthy work environment, one of the sorts of things that either you will see coming down the bend that first citizens bank or or some of the companies that you work with? Sure, I think pandemic or not. Companies and employers that don't have a thoughtful plan about benefits and compensation and creating a safe work environment aren't going toe. Have those employees for a long time. It's a very competitive environment out there, and it's hard to get good talent and hard to retain good talent. So I think that making sure that you know we're compensating people in the right way and providing flexibility and benefits is certainly of the utmost importance. And health and safety certainly goes without question. Uh, you know, I think across the board when it comes toe what we might see coming out of the pandemic or driven by the pandemic as faras remote working and, you know, additional vacation time or things that people need. And I think specifically some of the mental health side of things being, you know, sheltering in place and and the toll that that can take on employees. I think we all have to be very mindful and respectful of what that puts on our our individual people. So I think that that's something as far as additional counseling and benefits that might come out of it. But, you know, again, I'm not an HR expert by any stretch of the means. But I think again, focusing on the basics. Understanding your industry, understanding your competition and what's out there and making sure that you can offer, you know, very competitive benefits and compensation. And make sure that you have that healthy and safe environment, you know, is something that's first and foremost on almost all of our minds. Going back to that war on talent concept that each of you was touched on. Dr. Kevin, I know this question will be near and dear to your heart, being based where you are in the triad. Obviously, look at the survey responses and the responses in areas markets like Charlotte and Triangle regions. A little bit different terms of optimism confidence than perhaps what you might see coming from respondents sitting in the Triad region. Obviously, for an organization like ours, we want to see all of North Carolina doing well, but the pandemic, like it has with different industries and demographics. It's also shown different impacts on different regions that make up North Carolina, especially our three Major Metro's just curious thoughts that you have on the path of recovery as it looks in the Triad relative thio other parts of North Carolina. Well, the most obvious example of that is the furniture market in High Point. So the furniture market is a huge has huge economic impact in our state. And obviously we have to cancel, uh, the the October market or the April market. Now we've we've delayed the the other market, and now the upcoming April market is being delayed till June. That has had enormous impact on a lot of local people, right from think, think in terms of hotels and transportation and restaurants and and all the rest on DSO. You know, as Ben was saying earlier, Ah, lot of business to suffer because of that, they don't have the cash to