N.C. State University economist Michael Walden predicts that the state will pull further ahead of the rest of the country in the coming year.
To be precise, North Carolina’s urban centers – with plenty of high-tech jobs and advanced degrees and population growth – will outperform the national average. In an annual forecast issued Tuesday, Walden said he expects the unemployment rates in the Triangle, Charlotte and Asheville to fall below 4 percent next year, breaking a barrier not seen since well before the 2008 recession.
In 2016, North Carolina performed above the national average in key economic measures, such as gross domestic product, labor force expansion, payroll jobs and inflation-adjusted wages. And Walden said the growth will be even faster in 2017. The main reason: population growth. Walden said U.S. Census forecasts show North Carolina’s population increasing 30 percent faster than the national population next year.
Walden predicts the state will add more than 100,000 jobs in 2017 – with the most jobs being added on the high and low ends of the pay scale.
The economic wild card in the coming year will be the economic policies of the Trump Administration. Business leaders expect a pro-business push to cut taxes, reduce regulations and investment in public infrastructure. But economic nationalism could have harmful consequences, Walden notes. For example, limiting foreign imports and promoting domestic production could result in other countries retaliating by means of tariffs or lawsuits to cut their purchases of U.S. goods.
Walden said North Carolina could see huge benefits if Trump makes good on his promise to boost military spending and promote domestic energy production. Such policies could stimulate economic activity related to military personnel and installations, which would disproportionately benefit North Carolina, home to Ft. Bragg, the largest military base in the world, as well as other military bases.
Offshore oil drilling could create 17,000 permanent jobs, Walden estimates, as the largest quantity of undersea oil deposits along the eastern seaboard are off the coast of North Carolina. However, the energy-related job gains could offset existing jobs in tourism and fishing, Walden noted.