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Will NC Be CNBC's Three-time Top State For Business?

By Audrey Elsberry, posted Apr 22, 2024
Scott Cohn, a journalist with CNBC, was the keynote speaker at the N.C. State Ports Authority's Cold Chain Summit last week. (Photo by Madeline Gray)
North Carolina was named CNBC’s Top State for Business back-to-back in 2022 and 2023; could it go for a “three-peat”?

During N.C. State Ports Authority’s annual Cold Chain Summit at Wilmington’s Hotel Ballast, Scott Cohn, a CNBC special correspondent gave a keynote speech about the news organization’s state business ranking. Cohn lauded North Carolina’s two consecutive titles, a first in the ranking’s 17 years, but warned cracks remain in the state’s competitiveness for this year’s report.

“You were No. 1 overall, but not every area was great, some areas were terrific some weren’t,” Cohn said to the Cold Chain Summit’s audience April 18.

Each state is evaluated from a set of 10 categories, which include infrastructure, workforce, quality of life, cost of doing business and economy. The categories are broken down into a 25-point scale. Each category is weighted differently each year depending on what CNBC’s team determines is most important to that year’s business environment. Last year, workforce was the most heavily weighted category — North Carolina was No. 1 in the workforce category.

The state’s strengths lay in access to capital, economy and workforce, Cohn said. The population gains in the state helped its workforce ranking. Many college-educated and working-age people moved to the area over the past four years, Cohn said. Workforce development supplements that population as well.

“Your workforce development programs in this state do really really well,” Cohn said.

Wilmington and New Hanover County entities have made robust investments in workforce development in the past year. Wilmington Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Natalie English said her organization is focused on continuing those efforts to train, develop and retain workforce-age people.

The chamber leads its Leadership Development Academy for area seventh graders, a Health Care Talent Collaboration with Cape Fear Community College, the University of North Carolina Wilmington and New Hanover County Schools and various councils for industries like supply chain logistics and manufacturing.

While a growing population and access to a large population within a day’s drive — a pool of 113 million people — help the state’s business ranking, categories dragging it down are infrastructure, cost of doing business, cost of living and quality of life.

Business owners and local leaders in Wilmington tout the town’s quality of life, in many cases referring to proximity to the beach. But CNBC’s measure of quality of life consists of access to health care, crime rate, K-12 education, inclusivity and workers’ protections. The state ranked 50th in protections against discrimination for nondisabled workers, Cohn said.

“When it comes to quality of life, right, everybody has a different definition, right?” English said.

For some it’s access to health care, she said, for others, it's access to a great university. She cited Project Grace in downtown Wilmington planned to add a new library and museum to the area and Live Oak Bank Pavilion adding a public park as initiatives that have boosted the quality of life in Wilmington. The chamber hopes to either directly or indirectly boost access to health care in the region through its Health Care Collaboration improving the number of local nurses entering the workforce, she said.

Cohn attributed some of the state’s lack of access to health care to “growing pains,” he said.

Cohn also cited infrastructure as one of the state’s weaknesses, possibly keeping it from the revered “three-peat.” He mentioned water systems are bringing down the state’s ratings, but site selection and “shovel-ready sites” could be a strength.

The latest state business ranking is expected to be released later this summer. Cohn said there would be more information on the report’s website in June. Infrastructure will be the most heavily weighted category in 2024’s rankings of top states for business, Cohn said.

The state’s speculative commercial development could boost its rating. “Shovel-ready sites” are key to a Top State for Business, Cohn said. Wilmington has a healthy market for shovel-ready sites, turn-key commercial developments for businesses interested in a physical presence in the area.

“I think we still have, in the region, plenty of opportunity to grow business investment and to create more shovel-ready sites,” English said. “I don't think we're even close to saturation there.”
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