Some of us will put April 26 on our calendars as “Apple Day,” celebrating the date when the giant tech company announced it was investing “big” in North Carolina – or as Barney Fife would say, “big, big.” A billion-dollar investment and 3,000 jobs represent just the start of the impact. Supplier and support firms will also be attracted, and the spending from the new jobs will generate a larger retail base. All included, the total “Apple effect” could be closer to 6000 jobs and over $1 billion of new annual spending in the state.
The Apple announcement is just the latest in an avalanche of economic development wins for North Carolina and the Triangle. There was an understandable lull during the height of the pandemic in early 2020. But now that – fingers crossed – we are on the verge of defeating the virus, businesses are resuming expansion plans.
In my view, the Apple announcement hinged on two factors.
First was the pandemic’s positive effect on the tech sector. Remote working, cyber buying, and even virtual vacations all thrived during the pandemic. And while there will be some pullback in each of these once normalcy returns, experts think technology-driven activities are on an upward trajectory from their pre-pandemic position. So, it makes sense tech companies have upped their growth plans, and fortunately North Carolina will be a big beneficiary.
But it’s certainly not “luck” that landed the Apple facility for North Carolina. Both necessity but also foresightedness combined to totally remake the state economy during the last half-century. Tobacco, textiles, and furniture (the “Big Three”) led the economy through the mid-20th century. And while still important, foreign competition, deregulation, and health concerns have significantly shrunk these former giants.
As a result, North Carolina has totally remade its economy. Technology, pharmaceuticals, finance, food processing, and vehicle parts (the new “Big Five”) are now major drivers in the state. The state’s higher education system – including the UNC System, private colleges and universities, and the Community College System – work with the new economy in training workers and collaborating on research and development.
The second factor pulling Apple to North Carolina has only occurred in the last year, that is, during the pandemic.
The pandemic has made both businesses and households re-evaluate their future, and in particular, where they want to locate. While all states suffered during the pandemic, losing both lives and jobs, North Carolina has fared better than most states. On the two major metrics of Covid deaths per capita and job losses per capita, North Carolina has ranked low on both compared to other states. In other words, North Carolina has come out of the pandemic viewed as a “safe state.” Combined with the state’s other advantages – relatively lower cost-of-living, strong educational institutions, modest winters, and great natural amenities – the state’s economic growth potential is likely stronger after the pandemic than before.
Increased costs, yes
Of course, economic growth can bring costs, such as increased use of water and energy, more road congestion, and higher housing prices in dense urban areas. These should be recognized, and plans should be developed for addressing them. However, some of the costs can be mitigated if a significant number of the new Apple jobs use remote working. Then, individuals don’t have to make daily commutes, thereby allowing them to live anywhere where a strong internet connection is available. And hopefully, when the Apple facility is fully build-out, high-speed internet will be present everywhere in North Carolina.
Lastly, the Apple investment will lift many boats, economically speaking. Yet, this means we have an opportunity to make sure the lifting encompasses all demographic groups and all geographies in the state. Much of this task will fall to our higher educational institutions, who will be important providers of highly skilled workers to Apple. Now would be a perfect time to redouble efforts of inclusion in training for the occupations Apple will bring.
Apple has added to the opportunity for North Carolina to be “the” state of the future. With continued vision and effort, I think we will attain that honor.
Original Article Source: WRAL TechWire