Companies today have more options about where to locate than ever before. North Carolina, which has lost more manufacturing jobs than any other state, paid a heavy price in the shift to a worldwide marketplace. But even as we faced a "perfect economic storm" and a related $1 billion budget shortfall, Gov. Mike Easley and the state General Assembly had the foresight to know that our best chance for recovery was to increase education spending and invest in our workers to retool their skills. That strategy has paid off exceptionally well.
Considering the magnitude of the "storm" -- a recession, 9/11 and trade policy changes that had a disproportionate impact on our industrial state -- our recovery has been nothing short of remarkable. North Carolina has seen a 29.2% decrease in the number of unemployed workers in the state over the past five years compared with 14.2% nationally.
Not only have we successfully replaced 194,000 lost textile and furniture manufacturing positions with jobs in sectors such as biotechnology, financial services, education and healthcare, but we are 28,000 jobs ahead of where we started before the world economic shift began. Plus, our workforce investments promise to deepen North Carolina's talent pool even more.
Under the leadership of Gov. Easley, the state has embraced new, innovative educational programs as diverse as the kindergarten-readiness More at Four initiative to a compacted high school/college curriculum called Learn and Earn that allows students to earn both a high school diploma and associate's degree in five years with the state covering the cost.
It is not just educational programs that have changed; post graduate worker training and retraining of displaced workers have played equally important roles in preparing our state's workers for the jobs of the 21st century.
In fact, our skilled workforce and customized training programs top the list of many company presidents and CEOs when asked why they chose to locate or expand in North Carolina. When Credit Suisse, a world-leading financial services firm, announced plans to double its North Carolina workforce to 800 people last year, chief information officer Tom Sanzone offered this reason: "The (Raleigh-Durham) Triangle has provided us with excellent training for our employees, proving this area to be an ideal place for Credit Suisse to do business and support our international client base."
When Chris-Craft Corp. CEO Steve Hess announced plans last year to relocate the boat manufacturer's yacht division to western North Carolina from Sarasota, Fla., he said the available workforce played a major role in that decision. "Former furniture makers and woodworkers are ideal employees for us," Hess said at the time of the announcement.
Workforce training in our state comes in many forms. The 58-campus community college system works with new and expanding industries to offer customized training for many newly hired employees. In a partnership between BSH Home Appliance and Craven Community College in eastern North Carolina, the two have developed apprenticeship programs and specialized courses for company workers from the shop floor to the management office.
In February 2007, Honda Aircraft announced plans to invest $100 million to manufacture the new super lightweight HondaJet at Piedmont Triad International Airport just outside Greensboro. One reason given for that decision was the availability of a trained workforce with knowledge of FAA certification processes. Many of those trained workers are likely to come from North Carolina A&T State University's College of Engineering, which houses the National Institute of Aerospace. Nearby Guilford Community Technical College also can supply staff trained in aircraft mechanics and maintenance at the college's Davis Aviation School.
Training is not limited to prospective and displaced employees. The Commerce Department oversees an Incumbent Workforce Development Initiative to help upgrade the skills of the employed. The program benefits workers who gain new skills that can make them more valuable employees and increase their earning potential. It benefits employers who see an increase in worker productivity and a reduction in turn over. And it benefits the state by providing the skilled workforce that allows established industries to grow. Since the program began in March 2003, more than 21,000 North Carolina workers at more than 320 companies have received training.
In addition to providing new opportunities for displaced, employed and prospective workers, North Carolina's training strategies are bringing jobs that are more diverse than the traditional manufacturing jobs of the past. Recent announcements have included the creation of 2,000 jobs by Fidelity Investments, the building of a new $267 million flu vaccine plant by Novartis and a $600 million investment by Google in a rural area in the western part of the state hard hit by the loss of traditional manufacturing jobs. This diversification not only offers new opportunities today, but will help protect the state should the economy shift again tomorrow.
Jim Fain was appointed Secretary of Commerce by Gov. Mike Easley in 2001. He oversees the Department of Commerce which is the State of North Carolina's lead agency for economic, community and workforce development. The Department also has under its auspices the information technology function for state government and agencies which regulate commerce in the state. To learn more about North Carolina's Department of Commerce, please visit www.nccommerce.com.