Editor’s note: Michael Haley is Executive Director, Wake County Economic Development.

RALEIGH – The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have impacts across our community. This included a quick pivot on our part to host our first virtual Economic Development summit series. While we would have preferred to be with you (in-person), the virtual format drove us to take a deeper dive on key issues and challenges our community is facing.

Michael Haley, executive director of Wake County Economic Development

We kicked off our 2020 Economic Development Summit Series this week with Ted Abernathy of Economic Leadership, LLC. Our seminar on Wednesday, June 24, set the stage for our four-part series by learning how economic development and our economy have evolved over the years; the impact of the pandemic on the regional economy and our long-term prospects; and the new driving factors of our economy. As usual, Ted provided us with an amazing data-driven presentation with a wealth of insights into our economy and our region.

From Ted’s presentation, I came away with five important takeaways.

  • The only constant is disruption.

Ted’s presentation pointed to the changes across industries, geopolitics, demographics, and work that was already underway that have only been exacerbated or accelerated due to the pandemic. This perspective is important for us as we think about our recovery. Our economy will continue to evolve and we must be flexible to adapt to the changes.

The good news for us in Wake County, is that our economy is built on innovation, entrepreneurship, and disruption. I believe that our region will be one that is leading this change. 

  • The more things change, the more they stay the same.

While there has been a huge amount of disruption resulting from the pandemic, many of the trends we were experiencing pre-COVID will remain in place. Ted pointed to several in his presentation—continued “hyper connectivity”, rising complexity, and ongoing disruption. I will use one of the points that was identified by Ted as an example. It was noted that metro areas like the Raleigh metro (500,000 – 1 million in population) were experiencing rapid growth. Before COVID-19, metros in this category were growing thanks to domestic migration as people were already leaving very large metros. This trend will likely be accelerated as more people—and companies—move from dense metros that have been most impacted by the pandemic to metros with more housing options and less density.

  • Talent remains the driver.

Talent has always been the driver for the success of Wake County and the Research Triangle region. The right talent, with the right skills. COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on talent and our labor force. As Ted pointed out, millions of Americans have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. The labor force participation rate in the U.S. has also been declining for several years. What we also know from our own existing industry survey that Wake County Economic Development has just completed, is that many businesses have had to pivot and change their services or products to stay in business. When coupled, these issues present a daunting challenge to reskill or upskill our workforce; to help talent work in a new environment; and continue to attract talent to our market.

The solution is the robust and diverse workforce development system we have here . . . . As Ted pointed out, this is a competitive advantage for our community. 

(At our July 8 series event, we will be unveiling the data from our 15-county Regional Skills Analysis survey that will further inform this picture.)

  • Opportunities must be for all.

Ted saved one of his most important points for last when he noted that as a community we must ensure there is wide shared opportunity. To be a truly successful community, driving towards inclusive prosperity must be a part of everything we do.

Equitable economic development unlocks the full potential of the local economy by dismantling barriers and expanding opportunities for lower-income citizens and communities of emphasis.

  • Ready, Reset, Go!

The pandemic has had a tremendous impact on our economy and our lives. It is important for us to remember that Wake County and the Research Triangle region is the most competitive metro in the country. Yes, this is a “reset” moment but the market’s fundamentals, strong talent, educational ecosystem, diverse economy, and high quality of life are our strength and will enable us to recover strongly.

These takeaways will help drive opportunities for our region and will continue to shape the work of Wake County Economic Development.


This year’s summit will be spread across four weeks and will cover an array of important, interrelated topics:

Seminar 1: Regional Recovery Post Pandemic
Seminar 2: Economic Mobility and Inclusive Prosperity
Seminar 3: Talent Pipeline
Seminar 4: Perspectives from David Morken, the CEO of Bandwidth

(C) Wake County Economic Development