North Carolina has “a lot of natural strength others don’t. It’s almost an unfair advantage,” when recruiting out of state businesses here, said Lew Ebert, head of the NC Chamber of Commerce at the 16th annual Economic Forum Forecast on Wednesday.

Those advantages, said a panel on “Luring the big fish to North Carolina: why we win some, lose some,” include the state’s education system, its talent pool, relatively low cost of living, and easy access to the mountains or the beach from its metropolitan areas.

One disadvantage the state has is the lack of direct flights to Asia, where his company does much of its business, said Andy White, CEO and chair of Trilliant. “We do 80 percent of our business outside the US,” he said.

Asked what are the leading considerations in considering relocating, White said, “Talent is number one. Cost effectiveness number two.” He added that Trilliant has had “no problem recruiting great talent” here.

In aother panel discussion among several economists, the consensus was: 2018 would be another year of growth.

Susan Springfield, executive vice president and chief credit officer for First Tennessee Bank and Capital Bank, pointed out that while the state’s urban areas are growing and successful, some rural areas are struggling. “We need to focus on rural areas so they aren’t left behind,” she said.

Springfield praised the diversity of the state’s people and their willingness to listen to new ideas as “one of its most compelling things.”

Outside money necessary for economic growth

Christopher Chung, CEO, Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, pointed out the importance of attracting business. “The only way an economy can grow is from bringing in new money from outside the state.”

While that includes attracting new business to the state, tourism can also do it. “Tourists leave their economic footprint behind and don’t require services,” Chung said, which is why some mountain and beach areas focus their economic development efforts on tourism.

Another strategy rural areas can pursue is promoting small businesses and entrepreneurs. “You don’t bring an auto plant to the mountains,” Chung said. “Some communities can be successful growing small businesses if they have the infrastructure.” That includes access to fast broadband Internet, which is lacking in some rural parts of the state.

Springfield noted that the ability to get to the beach or the mountains in a few hours is a big draw to some, offering opportunity for a work-life balance.

She also pointed out that North Carolina “is not dependent on any one industry.” 

Chung said that one problem he foresees is that in the future, up to 80 percent of today’s jobs may no longer exist. That means the education system has to give students “the mental skills that prepare them for anything.”

While said NC is not as well known in Asia as some people might think. “If you mention North Carolina in Malaysia, they look at you like you’re the man in the moon,” he said.

Chung said that’s why his organization focuses on brand awareness. “We have to continue to market it,” he said. “How can people pick us if they don’t know where we are on the map?”

He also told the sell-out crowd, “You are all ambassadors for NC. Not just its business, but what it’s like to live here, what NC offers individuals and companies.”