Manufacturing, agriculture make comeback as small businesses create jobs

CORNELIUS – Small business remains the core of the state, though there has also been resurgence in manufacturing and agriculture, according to N.C. Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker.

Decker challenged parents and business leaders during a July 14 Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce luncheon to encourage youth to consider going into manufacturing and agriculture. She noted they are not the same jobs previous generations steered their children away from.

“The jobs that are coming back are quite different. They are advanced technologies and highly mechanized,” Decker said of returning jobs by companies who had sent work offshore but are bringing them back to North Carolina. “They take a very different skill set. In agriculture, it’s the same thing. Help young people understand they are not behind a plow on foot pushing it. They are in an air-conditioned cab of a John Deere with their latest computers, surround sound.”

In addition to the job creation in those growing sectors, Decker relayed that CNBC ranked North Carolina as No. 5 for top states in business – the highest it’s been since 2011. Among the reasons cited, she said, were tax reform, the quality of the workforce, the creation of jobs and changes in the economy.

“We have good news to share in North Carolina as tax rates are lowering and jobs are growing again – over 96,000 jobs have been created since January a year ago,” Decker said. “We’re seeing growth in all sectors of the economy: service, health care, hospitality. We are seeing great growth in financial services, service industries, and we are beginning to see growth again in core manufacturing. The most encouraging growth is happening in small businesses.”

Thanking small business owners and polling how many were a part of one (with nearly every hand raised), Decker said more than 800,000 small businesses exist in the state, which account for 60 percent of employees. And more are getting started all of the time.

She credited that to policy by local leaders and state legislators, including thanking the area’s own N.C. Speaker of the House Thom Tillis, who was represented by his wife at the lunch, and N.C. Sen. Jeff Tarte, who was also in attendance.

Decker said her department is changing the way they do things and is also making improvements to their program to help employers needing workers and perspective employees find what they are looking for.

But through it all, she said, they are keeping the focus on the five tenants she believes are the most important to fully rebuild the economy at the state and local level: health, education, economic development, tourism/parks/culture and quality of life.

Prompted by audience questions, Decker said they are looking at ways to offer alternative modes of transportation, making policy regarding coal ash, increasing alternative energy like solar and working with neighboring states to make it a win-win for the region.

But she said local municipalities have to be a part of the effort.

“Business is growing again in North Carolina,” she said. “We have a very important role to play in setting policy. If the local community does not have a plan for your economic development and economic growth, you will not have a plan for positive growth.”