N.C. Commerce Secretary praises area’s rebound from job losses
By Hugh Fisher
CONCORD ó Speaking to Cabarrus County leaders Tuesday, N.C. Commerce Secretary Jim Fain praised the emphasis on education and job creation that has allowed the area to weather job losses and changes in industries.
Fain spoke at a briefing for elected officials hosted by the Cabarrus Economic Development Corp. at the Embassy Suites Convention Center. Invited guests included leaders from Kannapolis and Concord, as well as other Cabarrus municipalities.
Republican gubernatorial candidate and Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory sat in on the talk. He and his Democratic rival, Lt. Governor Bev Perdue, were scheduled to address local leaders later Tuesday morning.
In his remarks to officials, Fain pointed to Cabarrus’ recovery from what he called “the perfect economic storm of 2001.”
“We suffered mightily in this state as the dot-com bust affected businesses all across the state,” he said.
And he lauded the area’s recovery from manufacturing job losses blamed on overseas competition ó especially the 4,800 jobs lost when Pillowtex closed in Kannapolis in June 2003.
“That was the final straw for a number of our traditional and legacy industries,” textiles and furniture manufacturing foremost among them, Fain said.
“Most of the heavy lifting has been done in this area,” he said of the hard work of growing industries such as motorsports while retraining workers and dealing with rapid population growth.
“We lost jobs faster than the Southeast in aggregate and the nation. But what our state can be proud of is that we’ve added those 400,000-plus jobs back.”
Emphasizing re-education and promoting new industries has resulted in an economic turnaround, making North Carolina one of the fastest-growing and most transformational states in the U.S., Fain boasted.
Economic development efforts deserve much credit for attracting new businesses and industries, Fain said.
“I couldn’t be more impressed with John and his team,” Fain said of Cabarrus Economic Development Commission President John Cox.
The goal in the near future, Fain said, was to continue North Carolina’s transition from manufacturing to a more “knowledge-based” economy.
Sectors such as education and banking continue to grow, while the N.C. Research Campus has renewed an emphasis on science and technology.
A new advertising campaign calling North Carolina “The State of Minds” underscores that transformation.
While infrastructure, education and tax rates remain challenges to overcome, Fain said he’s optimistic ó even in the face of the looming departure of major employer Philip Morris from Concord.
“Challenges still remain, but I have no doubt that, based on your track record, you’ll turn Philip Morris into an opportunity,” Fain said.
Faced with decisions on that very issue, Cabarrus County Commissioner Robert Carruth said he is glad for Fain’s insight and agreed with his assessment of the county’s future needs.
“I tell you, the fact is that these are the biggest issues of the next four years ó getting the Research Campus fully integrated into the community and dealing with Philip Morris,” Carruth said.
Kannapolis Mayor Bob Misenheimer said he is encouraged by Fain’s and Cox’s remarks on job growth in the region.
“We’re very excited that we have jobs coming back to Cabarrus County,” Misenheimer said. “I’m just delighted that we are able to have the opportunity to put so many of our people back to work.”