Wake Forest Economic Development on the Upswing

Dr. Michael Walden at WF EconomicDr. Michael Walden speaks at the economic development breakfast.
photo By Jeanne e. Fredriksen

Good news for region, state, and nation

By Jeanne E. Fredriksen

The Wow! factor was evident as Wake Forest Chamber of Commerce President Marla Akridge and Dr. Michael Walden, a Reynolds Distinguished Professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at NCSU, spoke at the Wake Forest Economic Development breakfast on April 16.

Statistics flew fast and furiously from the podium, but there was no denying that the majority of the news was positive. In her presentation, Akridge spoke about Wake Forest, the surrounding communities and Wake County. Walden, whose presentation was titled “Economic Outlook: Shifting to a Higher Gear,” covered the national and state economies.

Takeaways from local data are that population growth is trending upward, the number of residents who are employed is on the rise, high-tech jobs and jobs in the professional sector are major growth areas, and Wake County will reach a population of 1 million in 2015.

The greater Wake Forest area of Rolesville, Youngsville, Wakefield and Wake Forest had a combined population of 111,074 and 38,480 jobs in 2013. The average salary reached $78,000. The total number of jobs in the area grew by 1,980 in 2012/2013, with 713 new jobs in Wake Forest. Top areas of job creation in Wake Forest were retail, technical/science/engineering and healthcare.

The population of Wake Forest alone skyrocketed 139.3 percent between 2000 and 2010 to 35,609, and the city’s population is projected to grow steadily over the next 10 to 15 years. Based on approved projects, undeveloped land and recent growth trends, Wake Forest could see a population of 47,770 in 2025.

Building permits in Wake Forest have rebounded well. Residential building permits, which saw a high of 1,006 in 2005 and a low of 212 in 2009, increased to top 700 in both 2012 and 2013. Non-residential permits issued in 2013 were heaviest for personal services, general commercial and office construction.

Wake County also offers great news. The county’s median household income is higher than national and state figures, as well as those of neighboring Durham, Johnston and Orange counties. On the other hand, Wake County’s median family income is second only to Orange County’s when compared to the national, state and Durham and Johnston county figures. Wake County’s poverty rate of 11.6 percent is the lower than the region’s, state’s and nation’s figures.

The ACCRA Cost of Living Index compares the cost of living in cities and metro areas throughout the United States. An index score of 100 means a city is exactly as expensive as the national average. The Raleigh Metro Area’s score is 93.6, and is compared to Atlanta, Georgia, (95.3), Charlotte (95.7), and Richmond, Virginia, (101.7).

In our area, healthcare, utilities, and groceries are slightly higher than some other comparable metro areas, while Charlotte is higher overall, and in housing, utilities, transportation, and miscellaneous goods and services.

Walden said that on the national level, things are looking up even if we don’t feel it directly.

“Since the middle of 2009, the economy has been in an upswing,” he said. “So we’ve actually been in an expansion (recovery) for going on five years. We’re actually at an all-time high despite it being a slow recovery.”

Aggregate production has totally recovered, which is the broadest indicator representing the overall economy. Exports have risen and are higher than in 2005. Household finances continue to improve, which is evidenced in consumer confidence and spending habits. Home prices are beginning to rise, home inventories are low, and inflation has been tame. All of those activities herald better times than anticipated, he said.

The job market has also come back. Although it’s not where most people would like it, job recovery now exceeds levels just prior to the recession. Unemployment levels continue to be a topic of discussion, but it is important to remember that the unemployment figures discussed in the news are from only one of six economic reports generated each month, Walden cautioned. This single report is based on a sample taken using strict criteria and does not reflect the complete picture.

But with the good news come realities created by the impact of technology. Higher-tech machines require fewer people in many jobs. For example, it is reported that half as many welders are employed today as there were 15 years ago because technology has reduced the need for workers. Many welding jobs have been sent to off-shore sources as well.

Another issue concerning jobs and unemployment is the noticeable drop in the labor force. However, this drop is caused primarily by baby boomers retiring, people staying in school longer, and skills and training that have become obsolete, Walden said.

Here at home, North Carolina has recovered faster than the nation as a whole, and the state’s job growth has kept pace. The state’s prospects include a projection of 100,000 net new payroll jobs, a jobless rate between 6.0 and 6.5 percent at the end of 2014, and 70 percent of job creation happening in Charlotte, the Triangle and the Triad.