Editor’s note: This story is part of a look at North Carolina and the drive to be an economic powerhouse. Check this story to see the view from UNC-Chapel Hill’s Kenan Institute executive director.


RALEIGH – Economic development announcements, and announcements of new jobs coming to North Carolina, underscore just how important workforce development programs are, and will be, for the state, said North Carolina Secretary of Commerce Machelle Baker Sanders during a closing keynote address at a recent conference in Durham.

“We don’t want to be recognized as bringing all these wonderful jobs but not to be able to fill all these wonderful jobs,” said Secretary Sanders.  “We have to work diligently and purposefully together to double down on what we have been recognized for.”

North Carolina & race to be No. 1: Is it really best to be ranked at top?

And that’s talent, said Sanders.  The state’s strategic economic development plan calls for North Carolina to be “First in Talent,” and the plan, said Sanders, recognizes the state’s current and future workforce as an asset.

“Workforce development is crucial to the livelihood of every resident of our state,” said Sanders.  “These investments and decisions are not short-term,” she noted, of the economic development projects announced so far this year, and in prior years.

“They are prepared to be here for a long time,” said Sanders.  “We are well on our way to become the envy of the world.”

NC Commerce Secretary Sanders and Department defend new economic development plan

Collaboration key in workforce development, economic development

Perhaps the reason that North Carolina continues to land in first place on rankings reports is because of the state’s strengths, including North Carolina’s workforce.

But, there’s also something else that is uniquely North Carolinian, said Sanders, and is a factor in why success in the realm of economic development continues to be made possible.

“That is collaboration,” said Sanders.  “That is how our state has achieved incredible economic development success.”

According to Sanders, it was collaboration among stakeholders that led to more than 24,000 jobs announced in 2021, and more than 22,000 jobs announced thus far in 2022.

“Collaboration has allowed our department and the Governor to announce more than 24,000 new jobs in North Carolina in 2021, represented over $10 billion of capital investments to the state,” said Sanders, adding that she had been “really shocked” at the level of investment and interest in adding jobs to the state economy.

“Jobs are future focused,” said Sanders.  “Jobs like electric vehicles, biotechnology, computer science, and advanced manufacturing, which is a core competency of North Carolina.”

But one area the state must improve, according to Sanders, is on extending broadband access to all geographies and to all residents who call the state home.

“It’s way past time to be talking about broadband adoption,” said Sanders.  “We have to make sure that every corner of the state has broadband, access to the rest of the world.”

NC economy relies on connecting workers, employers – that’s focus of new NCSU initiative