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Rural Center Study Details Prospects for Manufacturing Resurgence

NC Rural Center manufacturing report cover

Today, the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center released the results of an expansive, yearlong study of the state of manufacturing in North Carolina.

The report cites growing reasons for optimism about the future of manufacturing — in 2011, for example, the sector experienced the first net increase in jobs in 16 years — and recommends establishment of the North Carolina Manufacturing Council to capitalize on this momentum. A second report, with further recommendations, is to be released in March.

Equally important, the report provides policy makers and economic developers at the state, regional and local levels with a wealth of new information to guide their work. Titled Our Manufacturing Future: Toward a More Prosperous Rural North Carolina, it:

  • Details the 25 manufacturing clusters that employ the most people in North Carolina. These clusters are product-related industries with strong buying and selling relationships, thus representing a broader impact than individual industries.
  • Analyzes the relative strengths of these clusters for the state, for the 85 counties that make up rural North Carolina and for each of the seven economic development sectors.
  • Further explores the complex relationships within six rural manufacturing clusters.
  • Highlights factors contributing to the successes of the most competitive businesses and cites common challenges among rural manufacturers.
  • Maps the locations across the state of jobs in each of the 25 clusters.
Although manufacturing has suffered significant job losses over the past two decades, it remains the top contributor to North Carolina's gross domestic product and 84 percent of state exports.

It is especially important in rural parts of the state, where it accounts for 14 percent of total employment and $9.3 billion in annual wages. Furthermore, at $42,297, the average rural manufacturing wage is nearly a third higher than the average for other private, non-manufacturing jobs.

Rural areas, many of which had depended on low-skill, traditional industries, have been hit especially hard by manufacturing jobs losses. But rural areas, too, are seeing a resurgence. "Our Manufacturing Future" illuminates the reasons: as industries have become leaner, more diverse and increasingly innovative, some employers are bringing back jobs from overseas. Others are boasting more customized services, while emerging high-tech industries continue to add workers.