Triangle Chatter

What a Smart Region Looks Like Today…. and Tomorrow

Charles HayesThe 900+ attendees of last month’s State of the Research Triangle Region meeting heard examples of what it means to be smart in today’s world: smart companies, smart governments, smart communities and smart people. Strong role models exist in every corner of our region – far more than could be detailed in one morning.

But numbers also tell the story of how the Research Triangle Region is blazing a trail in today’s Knowledge Economy.

Economic security – Being smart has its financial rewards. According to U.S Census Bureau estimates, the average household income in our region will grow from $72,599 today to $80,881 by 2019. Income projections highlight a region where prosperity is becoming more widely-shared: the middle and upper-middle income groups here are expected to grow as a proportion of overall households, while the population living at or near the poverty line will fall over the coming five years.

At a time of slow economic growth globally, our region is outpacing the rest of the U.S. in new workers and new jobs. Between 2010 and today, we’ve grown our workforce by nearly 7% in contrast to a 2% national laborforce growth. Over the same period, jobs in our region grew by nearly 13% while the nation’s job-creation climbed by just over 7%.

Growth Areas – Jobs in smart companies are not just jobs. They are career opportunities that have staying power and pay livable salaries. Between 2011 and 2014, utilities accounted for the highest percentage employment growth in the region – 27.5%; professional and technical services grew by more than 14%. Those two industries also happen to pay the highest compensation in the region: weekly wages for utility workers is well over $1,500, while salaries for employees in the professional and technical services sector is just below that.

Information technology jobs are surging right now, both in terms of raw numbers and economic impact. Between 2011 and 2014, we added nearly 2,400 positions in that sector, which represents an over 10% increase over those three years. Employment in the Research Triangle Region’s information industry offers the highest average pay of all sectors -- $1,545 per week. And these wages grew by nearly 13% between 2011 and 2014.  

Smart Manufacturing – The region’s manufacturing sector has shown impressive resilience. Nationally, the sector has shed jobs. But not here: between 2011 and 2014, we lost all of five manufacturing jobs. And manufacturing is our third most lucrative wage sector – paying on average $1,484 a week. As I’ve said before, the Research Triangle Region is a manufacturing region (among other things), though it’s a part of our story that is rarely told.

Advanced Industries -- Manufacturing has an even more central place in our economic future – as part of the “advanced industries” that will set the pace for smart regions over the coming decades.

The seeds of our leadership in advanced industries include North Carolina State University’s key role in PowerAmerica, the initiative launched last year by President Obama. PowerAmerica has the potential to reshape the U.S. energy economy by increasing the efficiency of anything containing a semiconductor – from household appliances to military satellites.

Advanced industries are the top 50 leaders in the U.S. economy – employing 90% of the nation’s engineers and generating 65% of all U.S. patents. Advanced industries account for 17% of America’s GDP, more than any other sector.

N.C. State is helping the region unleash the economic development potential of advanced industries. We’re working closely with them to identify the most appropriate and impactful advanced industries, which are leading the U.S. out of the post-2008 era. In addition to energy, advanced industries include manufacturing and services. Through the U.S. Department of Commerce, 11 federal agencies have launched a $1.3 billion “Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership” (IMCP) that is tailor-made for our region.

Tapping the full potential of advanced industries will require new thinking about workforce readiness, R&D, infrastructure and site development, supply chains, global trade and finance, and operational efficiency. We’re already leaders in several key advanced industries: pharmaceuticals, vehicle components, medical technologies, power equipment and software. Others such as precision instruments, R&D services and wireless communications are also within our reach.

These are the economic hot spots of the 21st century, and the Research Triangle Region – both our rural and urban counties – is the ideal place where advanced industries can flourish.

Author: Charles A. Hayes, CEcD, President & CEO, Research Triangle Regional Partnership

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