CHARLOTTE – The North Carolina Technology Association, NC TECH, today released the eighth annual State of the Technology Industry Report at an event hosted by the statewide organization. And there’s lots of good news in it⁠—not only for tech-focused firms but other companies who need high-tech skilled workers.

Earlier today, WRAL TechWire published a story highlighting the report’s main takeaways and diving into the data.

WRAL TechWire also interviewed Brooks Raiford, president and CEO of NC TECH, about the state of the technology industry in North Carolina in between the organization’s release of its latest IT Jobs Report on Monday and the release of the STIR report today.  A transcript of that conversation, which has been lightly edited, follows.

Report: NC’s tech sector is ‘driving growth and changing the economy’

Trends in technology

WRAL TechWire (TW): One of the primary takeaways from last year’s STIR report was that technology occupations and technology companies were growing faster than the economy as a whole.  This year’s report indicates that this has continued.  Why? 

Brooks Raiford, NC TECH (Raiford): This trend has continued.  The tech industry grew about 2 percent in North Carolina from 2019 to 2020, while the overall NC economy saw a job decline of -3.9 percent.  The pandemic plays a big role in this diversion.

There’s a chart in the report that shows the pandemic impacts on job change by industry and wages.  What we found was the tech industry subgroups and other high-income industries actually added jobs during the worst of the pandemic in NC.

NC TECH STIR Report Image. North Carolina Pandemic Impacts by Industry and Earnings. Data source: EL calculations based on EMSI 2021.4.

TW: What are the primary takeaways in this year’s STIR? 

Raiford: One of the major takeaways from this year’s report is the resiliency of the tech sector during a turbulent time for the overall economy.  With the ability to work from home and a lower risk of automation tech should continue to be resilient moving forward as well.

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Regional demand, innovation hubs

TW: Raleigh and Durham ranked among the top 7 cities for innovation in the first released “Tech Innovation Index” in December 2021.  What’s driving these rankings, and what does 2022 look like with regard to talent and innovation in this region?  What about in Charlotte?

For the metro analysis we looked at tech worker supply, tech demand, and innovation assets.  Raleigh and Durham metros scored in the top 20 in all three of these indexes, but were 2nd and 3rd (respectively) in the innovation assets ranking.  Charlotte exhibited a strong tech worker demand score, ranking 16th on this index.

TW: What’s an oft-overlooked community in North Carolina that has a strong and emerging technology workforce?

Raiford: Wilmington performed strong in our metro index rankings (60th out of 110).

Report: North Carolina technology job openings reach new high

The labor market

TW: NC TECH released the IT Jobs Report on Monday, finding the number of tech job openings reached a new high in January 2022. What are the primary driving factors for what’s happening in the labor market, especially with regard to technology occupations and jobs at technology companies?

Raiford: In the tech industry, growth is being driven by a large boom in software (31% job growth from 2015 to 2020), engineering, environmental, & clean tech (28%), and R&D and testing (37%).

While jobs at tech companies are growing, tech workers at non-tech firms are growing even faster.

The expansion of tech in other industries has been one of the continued trends throughout the last couple years of conducting this research.

For example, tech jobs at finance and insurance firms have increased by over 12,000 workers from 2015 to 2020.  So North Carolina’s other existing industries, like finance or the military/defense, are also supporting tech growth.

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What options do municipalities have?

TW: What does job growth and/or job opening growth look like in more rural communities in North Carolina — what’s happening on the ground in these regions and what does 2022 look like for these communities?

Raiford: We definitely see more concentration in the urban areas, particularly for jobs at tech companies.

However, tech workers in all industries are growing across the majority of counties in North Carolina.  Iredell County added the 5th most tech occupations from 2015 to 2020, also at the top are Cumberland County (8th), Cabarrus (11th), and Pitt (13th).

TW: What policy recommendations could help cities and municipalities navigate the observed worker shortage and sometimes mismatched labor market?

Raiford: A new analysis we added this year was looking at the types of STEM education completions coming from all postsecondary institutions in the state, computer and information degree and certificates have more than doubled in the last ten years.

When we compared North Carolina to other states in overall STEM education growth, the state ranked 4th. If North Carolina can continue to retain students after their education, the state will have a big leg up in the talent wars of the future.

‘Substantial mismatch’ in jobs, talent + urban vs. rural = big problems for NC

The state’s future

TW: What else is important to note about the state of North Carolina’s economy, writ large, and the state of North Carolina’s technology sector and workforce?

Raiford: Today, as part of the Outlook for Tech event in Charlotte, we highlighted the point that data analytics are playing a huge role in business location.  Right now, North Carolina is performing very well comparative analyses.  The state is ranked in the top five by Forbes, CNBC, CEO Magazine, and Business Facilities in their “best states for business” rankings.  The strong data performance in the tech sector should help keep the state at the top of the conversation in location discussions.

The biggest challenge in workforce is the demographic shifts (low birth rates, declining immigration) that were happening well before the pandemic.  This means workers have more power in where and how they work.  Quality of life, broadband access, and affordability are likely to be even more important factors in a worker’s decision process.