Commentary: Lack of jobs is limiting growth in Forsyth County

Commentary: Lack of jobs is limiting growth in Forsyth County
April 24
12:39 2019

By Algenon Cash

A new report issued by the U.S. Census Bureau continues to affirm what I’ve long estimated – Forsyth County is growing, but at a much slower rate than North Carolina overall.  Forsyth County had a population of 379,099 in 2018, a growth of less than 1 percent since 2017, and just above 8 percent from 2010 to 2018.
Nevertheless, the state’s entire population grew by 1.1 percent from 2017 to 2018, and expanded nearly 9 percent for the period 2010 to 2018.  The Charlotte and Triangle areas now account for 70 percent of population growth – Mecklenburg grew 1.5 percent and Wake increased by nearly 2 percent from 2017 to 2018.  Compare the larger Charlotte or Triangle metropolitan areas to the greater Triad and the gaps are fairly wide – both areas outpaced our regional growth at twice the rate. 

One benefit to slow growth is that we don’t have the urban sprawl, traffic congestion, and demands on local infrastructure that other larger cities may have.  Explosive growth is hard to manage.

A downside to not having more rapid growth is the population size can stagnate and in some instances even contract.  Slow population growth can lead to challenges with expanding tax base, which is what provides government leaders with the necessary revenue to fix roads, build schools, or provide quality public safety.

Some residents may rightfully argue we should not strive to be Raleigh or Charlotte – agreed. 

But we must endeavor to broaden the local economy simply because inclusive growth creates upward mobility for families living in poverty, a healthy job environment for the next generation coming out the regional colleges, and revenue for a hodgepodge of critical public services. 

It’s next to impossible to further develop the county’s infrastructure without recruiting new companies, generating jobs, and enlarging our tax base to provide revenue for investment.

Stagnate growth in Forsyth County is not merely a geographic issue, but moreover is driven by economics.  Jobs, incomes, and new business formation continues to underperform in Forsyth County.

Almost two decades ago we begin a long transition from being a manufacturing dominated economy to more focus on technology, innovation, entrepreneurship, banking, and services.  However the community’s transformation was abruptly stalled by the “Great Recession” in 2008 – the local area has since recovered, but the labor market is mostly treading water.

We continue to lose important corporate headquarters to nearby growing cities such as Charlotte. Two examples are the relocation announcements from Krispy Kreme and BB&T, not to mention the county’s largest employer Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s recent decision to create a “second campus” in Charlotte should worry area leaders.
We have proven quite adept at generating jobs through constructing new apartment properties, hotels, restaurants, and breweries – however the lack of sustainable jobs that pay well above the median wage remains elusive in Forsyth County. 

The household median income in the U.S. is $60,336, so Wake and Mecklenburg both outpace the national average with $66,579 and $65,750 respectively.  Forsyth trails the nation and a number of counties in the state at $50,803.  The household median income for all of North Carolina is $52,753.

This data is concerning because it results in higher performing counties becoming magnets that not only attract people from outside the state, but also may cause Forsyth residents to relocate to areas with higher income opportunities, which further depress growth locally.

Residential and commercial real estate professionals are typically at the center of the economic universe – they too are expressing vigorous concerns about slowing growth in Forsyth.  Public and private sector leaders would do well to listen closely and heed their warnings.

National magazines often cite the area as one of best places to live or start a business, which is true – we have a great community that is highly desirable because of many incentives. 

Undoubtedly if job growth was to jumpstart, then we could experience a strong uptick in people wanting to migrate here.  As more people come, more jobs will follow, and so forth – but right now the lack of job growth is limiting the region’s potential.

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