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NC Strategic Economic Development Plan



The North Carolina Department of Commerce released First In Talent: Strategic Economic Development Plan for the State of North Carolina in July 2021. The comprehensive economic development plan is a four-year plan that identifies three key goals critical to the state’s economic development strategy:

  • Prepare North Carolina’s workforce for career and entrepreneurial success.
  • Prepare North Carolina’s businesses for success by growing and attracting a talented workforce.
  • Prepare communities across North Carolina to be more competitive in growing and attracting a talented workforce and businesses.

Data and regional community input are core to the foundation of the First In Talent Plan.

To develop the comprehensive strategic economic development plan, the NC Department of Commerce prepared a request for proposals and shared it with multiple public partners experienced in the development of strategic plans. After a review of the proposals submitted, the NC Department of Commerce contracted with a team of faculty and staff at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC).

The UNC team included:

  • Anita Brown-Graham, JD, Professor & Director, ncIMPACT Initiative, School of Government
  • Emily Williamson Gangi, MPA, Policy Engagement Director, ncIMPACT Initiative, School of Government
  • William Lester, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of City and Regional Planning
  • Nichola Lowe, PhD, Professor, Department of City and Regional Planning
  • Brooklyn Mills, MS, Research Associate, ncIMPACT Initiative, School of Government
  • Jonathan Morgan, PhD, Associate Professor, School of Government
  • Austin Amandolia, Research Assistant, Department of City and Regional Planning
  • Molly Gaskin, Research Assistant, ncIMPACT Initiative, School of Government
  • Matt Hutton, Research Assistant, Department of City and Regional Planning

Extensive research and analysis included (but was not limited to):

  • Data on employment and wage trends by industrial sector over the past three decades,
  • Profile of the state’s workforce,
  • Strategic analysis of national and international trends, as well as technological changes that will influence the future competitiveness of driving industries, and
  • Economic profile and shift-share analysis for each of the state’s eight prosperity zones.

The ncIMPACT Initiative hosted eight regional sessions (one in each of the state’s prosperity zones) to collect input from stakeholders across the state that informed North Carolina’s Strategic Economic Development Plan. The regional sessions began with an exploration of key regional and sub-regional economic data and captured feedback on proposed priorities from stakeholders to ensure that the regional findings are both accurate and tell the full story of each region’s economy. Participants in the regional sessions represented local elected officials, chambers of commerce, economic developers, education – K12, community colleges, and universities, workforce development boards, councils of governments, and major employers. 

Stakeholder Outreach

In order to develop a data-driven strategic plan and solid recommendations, the UNC team prepared a comprehensive review of the strengths and weaknesses of the North Carolina economy and analyzed the consequences of the relevant data trends.

The team analyzed data on employment and wage trends by industrial sector over the past three decades in order to understand the changing competitive dynamics of the state’s key driving industries. In addition, they performed a strategic analysis of national and international trends, as well as technological changes that will influence the future competitiveness of driving industries. The team provided a quantitative overview of income inequality—using microdata from the Current Population Survey (CPS)—and the level of income inequality for North Carolina and a set of peer states. An analysis of changes in occupational wage rates overtime provided important details about inequality in the labor market.  Continuing the focus on labor market opportunities, the team profiled the state’s workforce and documented job quality and skill-gaps.

 

The team also provided an economic profile and shift-share analysis for each of the state’s eight prosperity zones. This analysis utilized publicly available data as well as proprietary data from IMPLAN Inc., which allows for a detailed industry and occupation analysis without the problem of non-disclosure for small industries. The team measured the economic differences across the prosperity zones and the extant level of inequality across spaces. The team also documented the economic interdependence across the state’s prosperity zones by analyzing commute flow data from LODES and trade flow data from IMPLAN.

The team compiled best practices in state-level economic development from around the nation, which focused on innovative state efforts to promote sector-specific workforce and talent development, high-growth entrepreneurship, and support local attraction, retention, revitalization, and place-making efforts.

Regional Sessions

The ncIMPACT Initiative conducted a series of regional stakeholder engagement sessions and interviews with representatives from economic development, workforce development, local government, relevant state government agencies, business, and education (all levels) to ensure broad input informed the plan.

The team conducted regional sessions in each of the eight prosperity zones, in which more than 250 people participated. The purpose of regional sessions was to gather input regarding the overall normative vision of the state’s economic development plan, as well as to understand particular regional challenges not gleaned from the quantitative analysis.

During these sessions the team shared details on the conceptual framework and anchored discussion around a data profile for the region. These conversations were designed to:

  • share insights about, and hear feedback on, measures for each regional data profile and conceptual framework;
  • draw out additional, less visible dimensions of inequality for the region;
  • recognize critical connections between workforce and economic development activities;
  • identify unmet needs for institutional coordination and state policy; and
  • categorize high-impact and emergent strategies to highlight in support of cross-regional learning.

Essentially, the team shared the process for developing the plan, early themes, and regional data indicators, and facilitated discussion among the participants about how the themes manifested in their region, invited participants to propose solutions for each theme in small groups, and then asked participants to prioritize potential solutions.

The team also administered a post-session survey for each region regarding priorities identified in the session to participants and other leaders in the region for input. The team received more than 280 responses to these post-session surveys and the resulting analysis enabled the research team to refine its findings for each regional session.

Regional Sessions to Inform the NC Strategic Economic Development Plan

 

To generate interest in these regional sessions, the team offered an online video with an overview of statewide data, the planning process, and what participants could expect from the regional sessions. The team also conducted three to five interviews with key economic and workforce development leaders in each region to tailor the session to regional opportunities, challenges, and concerns.

In addition to the regional sessions and interviews, the team hosted a session for the UNC System Economic Transformation Council and a roundtable with NC Chamber members to solicit their input for the plan. The team supplemented these focus groups with a survey administered to the UNC Board of Governors and various business leaders who serve on statewide boards related to the state’s economic development efforts. These boards include the NC Works Commission, NC Board of Science, Technology & Innovation, Rural Infrastructure Authority, Seafood Industrial Park Authority, the Economic Development Partnership of NC, and the NC Travel & Tourism Board. The ncIMPACT Initiative analyzed the results of the interviews and regional sessions and developed key findings.

Secretary’s Working Group

Throughout the process the Secretary utilized a working group to provide input and feedback to the UNC team. This working group included a small number of economic development professionals with experience in strategic planning who provided real world insights into the development of the plan and included representatives from key Commerce functions such as Labor and Economic Analysis, Office of Science, Technology & Innovation, Rural Development, and Workforce Solutions. In addition, the Office of the Governor, the Economic Development Partnership, NC Community Colleges, and a local economic developer were also part of the working group. The UNC team collaborated to develop strategic recommendations utilizing the results of the research and analysis, key findings of the regional sessions and interviews, and discussions with the NC Department of Commerce staff and working group advising the Secretary.

Resources

Data Profiles

The following data profiles were shared at the 8 regional sessions where we collected local input in Fall 2020