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Evolution of Economic Development and the Impact of the Pandemic

Economic Development has arguably never been more important. Despite the growth and success of the last few years, the coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll in North Carolina and across the country. To strengthen our economy once more, economic development efforts will be critical. To outline what that may look like, Ted Abernathy, Managing Partner of Economic Leadership, LLC and Michael Haley, Executive Director of Wake County Economic Development joined the Triangle business community in part one of the Raleigh Chamber’s Economic Development Summit Series. They shared valuable insights into what economic development has looked like for the Triangle, as well as a roadmap for the future.

The Beginning of 2020

Before any of us had heard the term “COVID,” North Carolina boasted a healthy economy. From 2014-2019, the state averaged 9.8% growth and experienced near record-low unemployment. While some manufacturing business was lost in 2019, other industries such as construction and financial services grew notably. As 2019 wound down and 2020 began, we began to see a slight deceleration and though the strong economy continued, it was beginning to plateau.

The Impact of COVID

The effects of COVID19 began to be felt the strongest in March and April. In April, 20 million jobs nationwide were lost to the pandemic. Among those hardest hit were the leisure and hospitality industries. As confidence began to rise in May, 2.5 million jobs were added, the largest job increase history. This was a welcome surge, but much more is needed to return to post-pandemic levels. In positive news for the Triangle, the North Carolina unemployment rate of 12.9% remains below the national average of 13.3%.

The Next Steps

As the economy restarts, there are a number of considerations for business leaders. Workplace norms that were slowly shifting are now changing at an accelerated pace. In the interest of safety, remote services are gaining popularity and technology is being used to complete tasks without subjecting employees to health risks. For employees to return to the office, companies will need larger spaces to social distance and will need to extensively plan for all scenarios.

The talent market is one of North Carolinas strongest assets and continues to be. Many states are seeing their working age population shrink but the opposite it true in North Carolina. However, the skills gap is still a concern. Especially if individuals elect to stay home to take care of families or kids, highly skilled positions may continue to be difficult to fill. Companies should prepare to get creative in attracting and keeping top talent.

We are also likely to see a shift in real estate. As remote work surges, workers are realizing that living in densely populated cities is not only unsafe, but unnecessary. Urban residential construction is likely to slow.  Commercial real estate is rapidly moving away from brick-and-mortar stores and offices to e-commerce and virtual services.

Haley shared a final takeaway that “the only constant is disruption.” Changes have been accelerated in recent months and have forced businesses to shift their way of operating from talent attraction to customer experience. Economic recovery will likely be a slow process and the most successful organizations will be ones who prepare for the future while staying flexible in the face of uncertainty.

Register here for the remaining events in the series.

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