The North Carolina economy received more kudos this week, with the release of the Site Selection Magazine annual ranking of state business climates.
The state ranked No. 2 overall in the 2016 ratings, nestled between top-ranked Georgia and third-ranked Ohio.
North Carolina was second in 2015 as well.
Site Selection Magazine is an international business publication covering corporate real estate and economic development.
Fifty percent of the ranking is based on a survey of site selectors – corporate facility investors and site consultants — who indicate simply which states they deem to be the most business friendly. Texas and South Carolina were first and second by that measure, followed by Georgia, according to the magazine’s report. At 50 percent of the total, a third-place finish earned Georgia significant points. That’s the subjective part.
The other 50 percent — the objective side — is a combination of factors primarily based on announced project data resident in the Conway Projects Database, which credits areas with corporate facility projects of at least $1 million in capital investment, 20 or more new jobs or new construction of at least 20,000 square feet, according to the magazine report.
Earlier this week there was more strong economic news when the unemployment figures for September were released. North Carolina’s statewide unemployment rate (not seasonally adjusted) was 4.8 percent in September, and showed that unemployment rates declined in 95 of North Carolina's 100 counties in September, according to the N.C. Department of Commerce. The Wilmington Metropolitan Statistical Area's unemployment rate dropped to 4.5 percent in September.
“North Carolina finishes in second place overall, despite calls to avoid investing there due to a bathroom-access law that passed earlier in 2016,” the magazine report stated. “It also ranks in the top tier in the competitiveness component of the business climate ranking, meaning plenty of companies still want a Tar Heel business facility in their portfolio, whether or not some sporting events move their contests elsewhere or a handful of companies cancel their North Carolina expansions. It still has the workforce, climate and infrastructure (transportation, regulatory and otherwise) deemed necessary by capital investors.”
Though not mentioned specifically in the report, the Wilmington region is strong according to a local economist.
“Of particular interest to me is the list of what matters most to site selectors and that our area is positioned or positioning itself well,” said Adam Jones, a regional economist at UNCW’s Cameron School of Business. “Workforce skills are the most important factor and Wilmington has a strong workforce with UNCW and CFCC providing quality entry level candidates, and a wealth of experienced professionals in the region serving as mentors. Anecdotally, the challenge for our area is the more experienced workers and recruiting them to a mid-size market with limited opportunities for a dual search.”
Jones added, “The list also includes land prices, utilities, ease of permitting and quality of life. All of which are strengths or improving in our region as the SUP process is being reworked, utilities being extended, and quality of life remains a strong point for us.”
Gov. Pat McCrory, who is in a tight re-election battle against state Attorney General Roy Cooper, issued a statement after the rankings were released Wednesday afternoon.
“When I entered office nearly four years ago, we had the fifth highest unemployment in the nation and governors from neighboring states told me that they no longer considered North Carolina competition for jobs,” the governor said in a news release. “Since then, we have added more than 300,000 new jobs, cut taxes by $4.7 billion and paid off a $2.5 billion unemployment insurance debt to the federal government. This ranking is further affirmation that our pro-growth economic policies have once again made North Carolina a top destination for jobs.”
Officials with the New Hanover County Democratic Party don’t believe the governor deserves too much credit for the high ranking.
“Look, if the governor is taking credit for the lifestyle here, and the beauty of our state, what we offer, our appeal, well all these things existed before he was governor,” said Richard Poole, the chairman of the New Hanover County Democratic Party on Thursday.
“There are a lot of factors for people and businesses to come to the state. We have a lovely state, and people want to be here.”
“HB2 isn’t helping us any,” Poole added in discussing the economic draw of North Carolina. “And we had a flourishing film industry before Gov. McCrory took over. Now all those jobs are in Georgia, a lot of jobs.”
According to the Site Selection Magazine report, Georgia’s film and TV industry surpassed $7 billion in economic impact in 2016.