North Carolina Communities Must 'Adapt' to Changing Technology, Expert Warns

Anita Brown-Graham, the director of the Institute for Emerging Issues, explains how North Carolina's lack of skilled workers will negatively affect the state's economy while traditional manufacturing jobs disappear.

by Rochelle Moore, McClatchy News Service / August 27, 2014

Anita Brown-Graham, the director of the Institute for Emerging Issues, told Wilson Rotarians Monday that manufacturing is a changing industry that continues to be a major driving force of North Carolina’s economy.

Traditional manufacturing jobs of the past are not as common today as manufacturing has become more technology driven with highly skilled workers.

“Although we may think that manufacturing is dead, the reality is manufacturing remains North Carolina’s largest industry sector, contributing more to our state GDP than any other sector,” Brown-Graham said. “And perhaps, most importantly, manufacturing offers the biggest rate of return for the economy.”

For every dollar of manufacturing industry output, $1.35 to $1.43 of wealth is created elsewhere in the economy. The second biggest rate of return in the economy is found in financing with 88 cents being created by every dollar of output, she said.

Brown-Graham was a guest speaker for the Wilson Rotary Monday in Wilson. The Institute for Emerging Issues, at N.C. State University, was started by former Gov. Jim Hunt, of Wilson County, who also serves as the chair emeritus for the National Advisory Board.

Brown-Graham said that she gets mixed reactions across the state when she mentions that manufacturing is an emerging issue. The reactions range from disbelief to disinterest to excitement. Communities that have across-the-board partnerships have fared better in grappling with the changes.

“We recognized that those places that were doing really well in North Carolina were those places that had close community networks that foster deeper partnerships among educators, industry and civic leaders,” she said. “Where there was no relationship, North Carolina’s communities were not doing well.”

Most counties across the state have added technology-based manufacturing jobs, she said.

“Manufacturing is changing,” she said. “Manufacturing today is being driven by technological innovations that were unimaginable years ago. It’s part of why our manufacturing facilities have fewer workers. They can be more efficient, more productive, because they’ve got the technology.”

The challenge in adapting to the change is making sure workers are prepared with the right kind of training. The lack of a skilled workforce created concern and dialogue during the 2013 annual Institute for Emerging Issues conference and continues to remain at the forefront of future planning. The newer manufacturing jobs can produce annual incomes of $60,000 and continue to drive the state economy, she said.

Because of the changes, future planning has shifted to education and making sure youth are better prepared for the workforce. Lifelong learning is also important today as many adults are heading back to college to learn a new skill or earn advanced degrees or a second bachelor’s degree.

Brown-Graham said many still view manufacturing as labor intensive.

“There are a lot of people who have ideas about manufacturing that are outdated,” she said. “I can tell you it’s no longer dirty. It does require high skills.”

Brown-Graham said that North Carolina needs to capitalize on the state’s innovative manufacturing economy with networked communities, a growing entrepreneurial culture and a highly skilled workforce.

“The trend suggests that we’ll continue to see more reshoring of manufacturing happening on the U.S. soil,” she said. “We also recognize the technology and the ability to customize and we’ll see more manufacturing enterprises being created in the U.S.”

The Institute for Emerging Issues is a think-and-do tank at N.C. State University focused on tackling big issues that affect North Carolina’s future growth and prosperity. From energy, to fiscal modernization, to improving systems of higher education, IEI takes the lead in convening state leaders in business, higher education and government to address issues early to prepare for future challenges and opportunities. The organization will have its 30th annual conference in February.

©2014 The Wilson Daily Times (Wilson, N.C.)