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Economist: Charlotte’s economy ‘finally firing on all cylinders’

The Charlotte metropolitan area should see job gains in virtually every industry in 2014, according to a Wells Fargo economist, who said the region’s economy is “finally firing on all cylinders.”

Mark Vitner said Monday that he expects the region to create 30,000 to 35,000 jobs next year. That’s up from 25,000 to 30,000 created this year.

While the U.S. economy is expected to grow by a modest 2.4 percent in 2014, there’s a very good chance the growth will be higher, Vitner said.

The largest source of recent job growth in the Charlotte area this year occurred in the leisure and hospitality sector, Vitner said. In October, the latest month for which N.C. Department of Commerce figures are available, the sector added 6,100 jobs in the Charlotte area from a year ago, for an increase of 6.2 percent. Nationwide, a large amount of growth in the first half of the year also took place in the leisure and hospitality sector, Vitner said.

“You would like to see stronger job growth in higher-paying areas,” he said.

Vitner said the growth in Charlotte’s leisure and hospitality industry could slow next year.

He said the region’s financial services industry should see another strong year in 2014, helped in part by MetLife continuing to add employees for its Charlotte hub. Last week, the company said it has hired 640 people out of a planned 1,300 for its Ballantyne retail operation, which opened this year.

Vitner also expects more recovery in residential and commercial real estate construction, which continue to be restrained nationally. That would create ripple effects throughout Charlotte’s economy, he said. Also, rising home prices nationally could result in more companies relocating to Charlotte as it becomes easier for employees to sell their houses, he said.

Vitner also expects warehouse and industrial development near the intermodal facility at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Such development could create jobs.

The Charlotte region has a ways to go before its unemployment rate drops below the national level. In October, the region’s rate was 7.5 percent, above the 7.3 percent figure nationally. Much of the drop in the national unemployment rate has stemmed from people leaving the workforce, Vitner said.

Vitner said it’s too hard to predict what the Charlotte area’s unemployment rate will be in a year.

He said he doesn’t see an “obvious negative” standing in the way of Charlotte’s recovery, although jobs might be lost in the retail sector around the start of next year.

“I imagine that after the holiday season we’ll see some retailers close up shop,” he said. “But overall retailing will still grow next year.

“There’s a lot of reasons to be optimistic. For the first time in a while, we have a little bit of a tailwind behind us.”

Roberts: 704-358-5248; Twitter: @DeonERoberts
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