RALEIGH — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper is traveling to Tokyo this week with state officials and economic development leaders to promote global investment in the Tar Heel state. And manufacturing jobs is likely a key item on his agenda.

The trip comes after Cooper’s declaration last week saluting the state’s manufacturing sector. Big wins from VinFast, Wolfspeed, Boom Supersonic, Eli Lilly, and Toyota, which is now hiring for its battery plant in the Triad, have given substantial boosts to manufacturing.

Toyota begins hiring, brings jobs and community support to Randolph County

Cooper will lead a North Carolina delegation to the annual Southeastern United States/Japan Economic Development Conference from Oct. 11-15. The Democratic governor said he plans to meet with Japanese business leaders and government officials to strengthen existing relationships and recruit new jobs to North Carolina. The trip comes as Charlotte prepares to host next year’s conference.

“On this trip, I will recruit new businesses with better paying jobs for North Carolina, while having discussions with and personally encouraging industry leaders to attend our conference next year so they can see for themselves what our great state of North Carolina has to offer,” Cooper said in a statement Friday.

Cooper will be joined in Japan by state Secretary of Commerce Machelle Baker Sanders, Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina Executive Director Chris Chung and other economic development leaders. Cooper made one previous trip to Tokyo while in office in 2017, according to his office.

Cooper had declared October 1-7 North Carolina Manufacturing Week.

“Our manufacturing legacy and workforce have consistently supported North Carolina’s reputation as the best state for business,” Cooper said. “Manufacturing is North Carolina’s second largest industry with nearly 11,000 businesses producing critical medicines, aircraft engines, wind turbine components, and soon supersonic jets, electric vehicles, charging stations and batteries. We need to keep this momentum going by investing in education and training for our world class workforce.”

NCSU economist’s analysis

So just how strong is the state’s manufacturing sector. WRAL TechWire reached out to N.C. State economist Dr. Mike Walden for his analysis.

“I certainly agree with the Governor that manufacturing continues to be a key part of North Carolina’s economy, even more than at the national level,” Walden explained.

“The challenge in our state’s manufacturing base is that it is continuing to undergo a transition.  The traditional base – tobacco, textiles, wood products – continues to drop as a percent of overall manufacturing.  Electronics, computer systems, and now EV batteries and vehicles – are expected to expand.

“The questions are how fast the new sectors will grow, and can we re-train workers from the traditional base to work in the new sectors?

“My opinion is – we can – but it will take commitment, focus, and coordination.”

The N.C. Department of Commerce cited some facts about the manufacturing sector as part of Cooper’s declaration:

  • N.C. has the eighth-largest manufacturing economy in the United States
  • The state has the largest manufacturing workforce in the southeast
  • According to the economists at the Labor and Economic Analysis Division of the state’s Commerce department, for every $1.00 spent in manufacturing, $1.81 is generated for North Carolina’s economy.
  • Last year, 95% of North Carolina exports consisted of $38.2 billion worth of manufactured products including pharmaceuticals, chemicals, aerospace components, non-ferrous metals, semiconductors, and textiles.
  • Of North Carolina’s second-recording breaking year for economic development announcements last year, manufacturing represents 68% of all new, relocation, and expansion projects with more than 21,940 new jobs and investments exceeding $17.2 billion.
  • Since Cooper took office in 2017, 70,500 manufacturing jobs and more than $38 billion investments in manufacturing have been announced in North Carolina,