RALEIGH – Two new reports from Wake County Economic Development presented to Wake County commissioners paint an optimistic picture for the Raleigh metro area as the economy begins to rebound from the pandemic.

As new towers are added in Raleigh and cranes become a more common part of the skyline, the reports address a wide variety of the capital city area’s strengths.

Not all the briefings to the commissioners were positive. These included:

But in comparing metro areas and forecasting job growth, WCED had much positive data to discuss.

In the 2020 Metro Comparison, an independent study commissioned by WCED – a part of the greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce – comparing the Raleigh Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) with the top 100 largest MSAs across the U.S., Raleigh came out No. 1. Raleigh rival Austin, Tx. came in at No. 2 with Seattle (4), Atlanta (9) and San Francisco (10) among other notable metros.

WCED Executive Director Michael Haley referenced that report throughout his presentation to the commissioners, as he recapped 2020 and updated them on current economic development efforts.

Rankings were based in part on five key indexes:

  • Talent – Raleigh ranked No. 1
  • Cost of Doing Business – Raleiogh ranked No. 1
  • Global Engagement – Raleigh ranked 21
  • Momentum – Raleigh Ranked No. 9
  • Future – Raleigh Ranked No. 1.

Among the five, Haley stressed talent.

“Talent is what drives this community forward, talent is what drives our community,” said Haley.  “Economic Development, today, is talent development.”

That’s why it’s important to take a three-pronged approach to talent, explained Haley, including expanding talent through workforce development, assisting companies in retaining talent already within the region, and attracting out-of-market talent to the area.

Economy & Business 2021 report highlights

A second report forecast strong job growth.

“For 2021, I see the Raleigh region gaining between 12,000 and 15,000 net new jobs—which is a 2% growth rate and above the expected national growth rate,” said Dr. Michael L. Walden of North Carolina State University, in the Economy & Business 2021 report.  “Raleigh is rated as one of the highest in the nation for potential remote working making the Raleigh metro positioned for economic success in 2021,” he added, remote working being one of the significant reactions to the pandemic.

‘Systemic racism’ is barrier to growth for all, says Wake County Economic Development

Population continues to increase, as people from New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania are moving at a rate of 48 people per day to the region, the WCED 2020 Metro Comparison found.  The region is attractive to those seeking to relocate—especially for millenials, the study found, as the region possesses a projected net migration growth in individuals ages 15–34 in the next five years at 15.4 percent compared to the U.S. average of 2.6 percent, with an estimated 75 percent of these movers possessing a bachelor’s degree or higher, the report found.

WCED envisions a future where every resident of the county has “the ability, the skills necessary to excel, not just in the jobs of today, but preparing our community for the jobs of tomorrow,” added Haley.

In addition to conducting a regional skills analysis, and publishing the data, the organization is currently in the process of updating its strategy, leading community-based focus groups to identify the key attributes that residents see in living or in moving to the region, and seeking to understand what those who live and work in the region say about doing so to friends and family outside of the region.

“Our competition isn’t Durham”

Haley takes a wide view of the region—describing the collaborative approach between cities, towns, and universities across the Triangle similar to those on a recent Clubhouse call led by members of the entrepreneurial economy about why investors ought to invest in the region—including direct collaborative work with organizations leading economic development in the Durham MSA.

“Our competition isn’t Durham, and it never has been,” said Haley.  “Durham is our partner, they’re our colleagues, and we think of it that way.”

Report: Wake’s travel economy is recovering – but thousands of hospitality jobs remain at risk

In his update, Haley provided additional details on five pillars of WCED’s approach: talent and workforce solutions, economic prosperity, brand awareness and competitive position, entrepreneurship and innovation, and regional collaboration and place development.

WCED works to increase economic prosperity and opportunity in Wake County by supporting the growth of existing companies and attracting new high-quality jobs and investment, said Haley.  For example, WCED played a key role in wooing PennyMac Financial Services to the region, he noted.  The company plans to invest $4.3 million in Cary, creating 322 new jobs in the Triangle with an average salary of $64,000.

“This latest expansion will support the mortgage fulfillment functions of the company’s direct lending operations, which includes loan processing, underwriting, closing and funding,” the NC Department of Commerce explained in the January 2021 announcement.  “The company’s new footprint will span 35,000 square feet of production, business technology, and IT support.”  The North Carolina Economic Development Committee agreed to provide nearly $2 million in tax incentives if job targets are met.  PennyMac already has an office in the Triangle, and the company agreed to retain 42 current jobs as part of the incentive grant.

Last month, Governor Roy Cooper announced that Gilead  Sciences will invest up to $5 million to establish a 275-employee business services and information technology hub in Wake County, creating a new Business Services center delivering financial, human resources, and information technology services, including cybersecurity and digital transformation initiatives.

Wake County will also be home to two new Amazon facilities, known as delivery facilities, which are expected to open in 2021 and pay a wage of at least $15 per hour, for hundreds of full-time jobs.  There are currently three Amazon delivery stations in operation in the Triangle and eight in the state of North Carolina, and the additional two stations will be in Garner and in Raleigh.

In the Economy & Business 2021 report, WCED reports announcing more than 6,621 new jobs and $406 million in investments in the region—including 2,516 jobs in technology, 994 in the life sciences, and 992 in advanced manufacturing, three sectors of focus for the organization.

Grow local strategy

In addition to recruitment of firms outside the area, Hale cited local initiatives such as the Launch Program through Wake Technical Community College to help boost growth of local firms.

“Worked with 150 different businesses, supporting them, many in a growth stage, with bringing them resources and also creating a network, so it’s a two-way street,” said Haley about the program in 2020.  “Excited about that type of program to support minority and underrepresented businesses.”  WCED’s work on equitable economic development is another core aspect of changing the traditional view and lens of the region’s economic development landscape, and the organization recently launched a nine-month study in partnership with RTI International to better understand how the region, and its businesses and individuals, can expand equity and opportunity so that all may achieve economic prosperity.