Editor’s Note: Christopher Chung is the CEO of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC).  This post is one portion of a WRAL TechWire series on gratitude, published in November 2021.  

RALEIGH – Compared to the first several months of the pandemic and most of 2020, the economy has continued to bounce back strongly in both rural and urban areas of the state.  Employers—both current and those entering the state as a result of expansion or relocation—continue to add new job openings, and if anything, the biggest challenge is how to attract enough qualified applicants for those hiring needs.  Add the fact that those fortunate enough to own their homes or make investments in the stock market are likely in a stronger position financially because of increases in these asset prices, and it all suggests that the economic situation for many is likely better now than compared to a year ago.

All that said, there’s still a lot of economic hardship out there.  Business travel has been much slower to rebound than leisure travel, which affects the many businesses and workers who depend on that sector of the tourism economy.  That some offices have delayed their return-to-office schedules (or done away with the office-based workplace altogether) has caused problems for those small businesses catering to office employees and those downtowns that depend on daily commuters for a sense of neighborhood vibrancy.  Health care workers—who not only look out for all of us when we’re sick but who also make up an increasingly large segment of our economy—surely must be experiencing unprecedented levels of exhaustion and burnout risk after nearly two years of battling the pandemic.

Companies in a ‘bloodbath’ for talent in 2020, say experts

And of course, the continued presence of COVID—despite major advances in vaccine availability and now therapeutics—means a substantial number of would-be workers remain hesitant or unable to re-enter the workforce.  That might be driven by fear of contracting the virus or spreading it to vulnerable ones in their homes.  It might be caused by the inability to find safe and reliable care for dependents—availability of quality childcare and elderly care have both been hit hard by the pandemic.

Whatever the cause, given the importance of labor to our economic future, removing these barriers to workforce participation is rightfully going to be a focus for businesses and policymakers—especially when you layer in additional headwinds like demographic trends (e.g. declining birth rates), limits on legal immigration, and the aftereffects of “the Great Resignation.”  Hopefully by this time next year, we’ll all be saying thanks for any progress made on this front.

More companies, more people = growing demands for talent. Can North Carolina satisfy the need?

Professionally speaking, I’m grateful for the continued opportunity to be part of the EDPNC and broader team of partners working every day to strengthen North Carolina’s economy and improve the economic well-being for everyone who calls North Carolina home—we’ll have the final tallies in a few weeks, but 2021 will likely be a banner year in terms of results.  I’ve dedicated my entire professional life over nearly 25 years to this profession, and I’ve never believed more strongly in the need for a well-resourced and diversified approach to economic development—be it through tourism promotion, workforce readiness, business marketing and recruitment, small business start-up assistance, or any of the other myriad ways that economic development gets done.

I’m also grateful for the strong working relationship that’s quickly developed between new North Carolina Department of Commerce Secretary Machelle Baker Sanders, newly appointed EDPNC Board Chair Gene McLaurin, and myself.  There is no more important partner to our work than the North Carolina Department of Commerce, and to be able to lock arms frequently and effectively with Secretary Sanders and her team has, I hope, been a real key to North Carolina’s on-the-field success this year.

Personally speaking, I’m thankful the rapid development, approval, and rollout of COVID vaccines means that I finally got to see my Ohio family for the first time in way too long earlier this year—and that they got to see our daughter, who was born shortly before the pandemic.  Thanks to these vaccines, I suspect a lot of families will especially treasure this Thanksgiving as the first in a few years when everyone can gather safely and celebrate the start of the holiday season.