DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina jobs and company profits will continue to see steady, diverse growth in 2018 even if the state fails to land a Toyota auto factory or Amazon headquarters expected to be announced within months, corporate and economic leaders predicted Wednesday.
The state's growing number of technology- and health-centered jobs, its variety of industries including tourism and manufacturing that allow economic shocks to balance out and decades of business-friendly leadership, and state tax cuts preceding new federal cuts all point to another year of strong growth, said speakers at an annual forum organized by the state's bankers and chamber of commerce.
North Carolina's biggest competitive advantage is that its population continues to grow after adding 2 million potential consumers since the turn of the century — a major proportion of whom have tech and other skills in high demand by growing companies, top state business recruiter Christopher Chung said. Companies are interested in tapping that deepening pool of skilled workers, Chung said.
"The folks that are moving here tend to be of that age range and demographic that are very attractive from a skill-set and experience standpoint to the kinds of employers that we are competing to attract," he said.
North Carolina will be among a dozen states seeing slow growth through the spring, while half the country is expected to see faster growth, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia projected in a report Wednesday.
Jobs and wages in North Carolina and across the country should benefit this year from the corporate tax cuts passed by Republicans in Washington last month, four of the state's top economists agreed.
The state should add another 70,000 this year and the unemployment rate could drop to about 3.5 percent — below the mark economists have assumed is the point where everyone who wants a job already has a job, North Carolina State University economist Mike Walden said.
"This is bullish for the nation and it's very bullish for North Carolina," he said.
The tax cuts may not lead to companies opening new American factories, but it will lead to extra money coursing through the economy, broadly increasing money-making opportunities, Wells Fargo senior economist Mark Vitner said.
"I think we're going to see a dramatic increase in business investment, which will lead to greater productivity and finally perhaps some real growth in salaries and wages in this country," added Harry Davis of the North Carolina Bankers Association and Appalachian State University.
Economic growth is picking up worldwide, and with corporations reporting rising profits it is unlikely that a recession is around the corner even though the current U.S. economic expansion of nearly nine years becomes the second-longest in U.S. history next month, Davis said.
North Carolina business recruiters are now competing to attract expansion projects by technology giant Amazon and Toyota involving thousands of jobs each.
Four North Carolina metropolitan areas last year submitted bids in a nationwide competition to host Amazon's second headquarters complex. North Carolina also is believed to be a leading contender for a manufacturing plant that would be jointly owned and operated by Toyota and Mazda. Both corporate site selection decisions are expected to include demands for tax breaks and other incentives worth hundreds of millions of dollars from state and local governments.