Inter-Industry Trends

Main Trends

North Carolina in the U.S. Economy

North Carolina is the 10th largest state in the United States by population, with 9.85 million residents in 2013 (1) and nearly 3.3 million people in the private sector labor force in 2014 (2). In February 2014, the North Carolina unemployment rate was slightly lower than the national U.S. average at 6.4% compared to 6.7% (3). This overview of North Carolina employment and its role in the U.S. economy focuses on the seven industries covered on this website. Of critical interest is the sheer magnitude of changes that have taken place regarding employment over the last two decades and the ramifications of these changes for North Carolina's communities, industries and people. Placing some of the key employment numbers from each of the seven industries side-by-side and offering comparison to similar numbers at the national level, helps to identify some of the strengths and weaknesses of NC’s industries currently and going forward.

Employment Trends

As indicated by Table 1, 2, 3 & 4, North Carolina continues to hold a consistently high percentage of national employment in most of the seven industries studied when compared to all U.S. states. Of particular interest are the somewhat dualistic employment trajectories of traditional manufacturing and agricultural industries, and the newer R&D and services industries. On the one hand, the traditional industries are by and large experiencing a decline in employment both in North Carolina and nationally across all states. While on the other hand, the newer industries are seeing employment numbers increase both within North Carolina and at the national level. Bridging the gap between these two trajectories is the fact that in periods of employment declines and employment increases, each of the seven industries in North Carolina has either improved their proportional share to total U.S. employment for that industry, or have been able to maintain a proportionally high level in comparison to all other U.S. States. This suggests robustness in North Carolina’s comparative employment outlook for each of the profiled industries. However, at the same time, further analysis of data contained in Tables 1-4 reveal a more mixed dialogue and are therefore worth exploring further.

In Table 1, aggregate employment numbers are provided for each industry for the years 1992, 2002 and 2012. Offering a basis for change over a two decade period, these numbers are supplemented by Tables 2, 3 and 4 which give more detail to the nuances of change experienced over time in each industry. For example, Table 2 calculates percent changes in total employment from 1992 to 2002 and 2002 to 2012 and 1992 to 2012. Benchmarking North Carolina’s percent changes per industry to a U.S. national average enables comparisons to be drawn on the employment patterns taking place in North Carolina based on wider national industry employment trends. Across all seven industries North Carolina’s performance is mostly in-line with national employment trends: increases and decreases in North Carolina employment correspond to increases and decreases at the national level – with the only two exceptions being textiles & apparel during 1992-2002 (NC -15% & U.S. +3.9%) and banks & finance from 2002-2012 (NC +11.6 & U.S. -1.7%). During 1992 to 2002 four of the seven industries increased their total employment numbers, and in each industry the rate of growth in North Carolina outpaced national averages. On the contrary, falling employment in North Carolina’s tobacco and furniture industries were both higher than national numbers. Between 2002 and 2012 only three of the seven industries experienced positive employment growth, with North Carolina only surpassing the national growth rate in banks & finance and biotech. While tobacco, textiles & apparel, furniture, and hog farming all experienced falling employment, decreases in North Carolina were only smaller than the national average in the furniture sector – meaning in the other three sectors falling employment in North Carolina was outpacing national industry averages. In a few instances significant variations exist between North Carolina and U.S. percentages in terms of increases or decreases over the two different time periods – for example, hog farming from 1992 to 2002 (NC +138.6% & U.S. +18.4%) – however, these can be attributed to a comparatively low base of employment in North Carolina in 1992 compared to the national level (NC 6,420 & U.S. 281,231).

Table 3 provides North Carolina’s national rank in number of employees in each of the seven industries compared to all other states: 1 being the highest and 50 the lowest. As it is shown, North Carolina over the period 1992 to 2012 has been able to achieve remarkably competitive ranks; improving its rank in four industries (biotech, hog farming, banking & finance, and IT) while maintaining its number 1 rank in tobacco, and only slightly losing rank from 1st – 4th in textiles & apparel and from 1st – 2nd in furniture. In addition to this, Table 3 also records North Carolina’s employment in each industry as a percentage of all U.S. employment. Somewhat similar to NC’s general trend in rank improvement, North Carolina’s biotech, hog farming, banks & finance and IT industries have been able to improve their share of total U.S. employment in 2012 over their 1992 levels. Also consistent with the downward trend for traditional industries (as mentioned above), tobacco, textiles & apparel, and furniture have all seen their share of U.S. employment fall over the same period.

Table 4 looks at the 2012 contribution of each industry to North Carolina’s total employment, represented as a percentage of total private sector employment. At 3.2%, banks & finance accounted for the largest share of all seven profiled industries, followed by IT at 2.1%, biotech at 1.9% and textiles & apparel at 1.6%. All seven industries combined represented 10.6% of North Carolina’s total private sector employment, showcasing the significant influence that employment dynamics in these industries have on overall state employment outcomes.

  1. U.S. Census Bureau. State & County Quick Facts: North Carolina. Retrieved April 11, 2014.
  2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Databases, Tables & Calculators by Subject. Retrieved April 11, 2014.
  3. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Local Area Unemployment Statistics. Retrieved April 11, 2014.