(WGHP) — About a decade ago, some economic developers in the Triad had an idea: let’s brand our area something memorable that applies to the entire region.
Some who live in the central part of North Carolina may see significant distinctions between Greensboro, Winston-Salem, High Point and Burlington, etc., but people from the outside that the region is trying to attract often see us as one big homogenous region.
That’s when The Carolina Core was born: the idea to promote the four, big megasites the state has developed from just southwest of the Triangle up through Chatham County to Randolph County to the Piedmont Triad International Airport as the core of the state and its manufacturing base.
Stan Kelly was the first of the Piedmont Triad Partnership CEOs to predict big things for the region.
“We think we’re in the game, and we’ll have our chance to win,” Kelly said in July 2019. “I am very optimistic that over the next ten to twenty years, we’re going to grow an incremental 50,000 jobs in this region on top of the singles and doubles that we get day in and day out.”
It’s a bold prediction for a region that saw something like a 1,500 aggregate job increase over the previous 25 years.
But it appears Kelly was prescient. Just with the big five announcements of the last 18 months of projects by Wolfspeed Semiconductors, Vinfast (SUVs), Toyota Battery, Boom Supersonic and Siemens railcars, that’s 20,000 jobs, and it will only lead to more.
“They came so close together,” said Mike Fox, who is the current CEO of the Piedmont Triad Partnership. “There was a time when all four of those megasites were in play, and no one knew what was going to hit first. But when you’re in a business like that and see somebody else voting with your feet…and saying ‘this is a good place to be,’ it certainly gives you confidence in your decision.”
No region in the country can claim those kinds of successes in such a short period of time. It’s not a moment too soon.
In 1990, the state had more than 860,000 manufacturing jobs, and one in three jobs in the state was in that sector, according to the census. By 2022, that number had dropped to nearly half at 450,000 manufacturing jobs, and with the population having grown from around 6,600,000 in 1990 to more than 10,700,000 today, the percentage of the population in manufacturing dropped to about 12%.
As great as those numbers are, they lead to another point of view.
“That is one of the challenges of success…letting everyone understands that we’re not full. We’re not closed. We’re still doing business,” Fox said.
One example is the megasite in Chatham County which can draw works from the Triad.
The people behind developing the megasites are aware of what’s going on.
“We have something of an embarrassment of riches at this point because we’ve been so successful that our supply of facilities like that are fast disappearing,” said State Senate Leader, Phil Berger, who represents Rockingham County.
The legislature and the governor are both working on funding new megasites, but those are in the early stages of development.
UNC-Greensboro professor Keith Debbage has written a number of reports on the local economy and says the state played it right.
“To get this many hits this quickly, it just seems to have accelerated post-COVID,” Debbage said. “You’ve got this pent-up invisible hand of the market economy that’s coming out of COVID looking for where do we put this capital investment, and we were primed for the pump because, fortunately, many of our leaders had this vision that was long-term.”
Now they have to prepare for what they hope is a second wave of investment in the state. See more on all this in this edition of The Buckley Report.