WRAL TechWire spoke Dr. Anne York, Professor of Economics, School of Business, Meredith College, via email, to inquire about how Apple’s recent announcement to build a $1 billion campus in the Triangle might impact Triangle students pursuing college degrees, how North Carolinians can understand whether economic incentive packages are worth the cost, and what this move might mean for local land use policy, by email. The conversation has been lightly edited.

  • What does this announcement from Apple mean for the Triangle, and for students pursuing college degrees?

Announcements like this by a company held in such high regard as Apple definitely puts us on the map for other businesses to take notice of us too, especially now as a hub for tech sector jobs. For college students, this helps to provide more internship opportunities and makes it easier to find work to continue to live in the Raleigh area post-graduation.

Meredith College photo

Dr. Anne York

We are doing our part at Meredith to try to provide opportunities for women to develop skills in STEM work. We recognize how the workplace rewards quantitative skills and include course work in many majors across Meredith to develop those skills. The problem comes with companies being able to retain female workers in the STEM sector.

A recent report from the AAUW succinctly describes how to “support an inclusive pipeline, build equity into a company’s recruiting DNA, and how to create and sustain a winning culture for all.” There are many issues to resolve to increase women’s representation in STEM, particularly in the computer science and engineering part, but it basically comes down to having a desire to be more inclusive, which fortunately our society now seems to be paying more attention to issues of diversity and inclusiveness. It would come down to company leadership and the example they set in who they hire to be in the upper levels of management with them. If the CEO and Board of Directors take this issue seriously, change can happen.

We hope that as more women take leadership roles in tech companies, that the work environment will become more inviting to them. The faculty and staff at Meredith College would welcome a partnership with any companies who want ideas for how to have a more inclusive work environment.

  • How might we determine whether the economic incentive package for this deal is worth the cost?

It is hard to know if the $1 billion in economic incentives is “worth it” without knowing exactly what we are forgoing. Is this going to lead to $1 billion less in so-called “wasteful government spending” or is it $1 billion less in direct health and education spending? But at the very least, Apple is making a significant investment in NC that will lead to other avenues for tax collection, such as state income taxes on these higher paying jobs and sales taxes from workers spending money in their local communities. And as we point out in economics, one person’s spending is another person’s income, so increased spending from Apple workers creates income for others. It is intriguing that Apple is investing in two funds for schools and community initiatives in the Triangle and in infrastructure across NC, but the $100 and $110 million funds are a drop in the bucket to meeting those needs.

Assuming we aren’t moving to a world with widespread remote working arrangements such that any person can get a job anywhere, becoming known as a tech hub will lead to increased demand for labor in the Raleigh area, which will increase wages until the supply of labor has adjusted their skills and caught up to the level of workers needed. Those who may have chosen a job, for example, in finance, may now choose to tweak their skills to work in the technology sector instead, which will also put upward pressure on wages in finance jobs. But we will need for workers to be able to move to our area and so local laws may need to be adjusted for land use to allow for denser housing.

  • Other issues of interest related to the campus?

I’m not an expert on land use policies, but I am referring to zoning regulations, with some areas zoned for residential, commercial, etc with different amounts of density per acre and regulations on the size of the structures.  We obviously now have a huge imbalance in demand for housing versus supply of housing. Maybe we are seeing a temporary imbalance due to the pandemic causing so many more people to want larger homes to accommodate working from home, but our area will also continue to see population growth from these companies relocating here.

What is the Wake County Planning Department doing to help meet the housing need, to increase the supply of housing, so that prices become more affordable? Can they streamline the process for receiving building permits? Open more land for housing and allowing more land to have increased density?

If these types of laws aren’t adjusted, it will make it harder for companies to recruit local workers and they may hire remote workers who may not live in NC, which of course doesn’t help with investing more in our local communities.