In concert with its 100th anniversary, Duke Power is sponsoring an economic development conference on April 29 and 30, 2004, entitled, “Carolinas Competitiveness Forum.” Ever since the completion of the Catawba Hydro station a century ago, Duke Power has been aggressively engaged in promoting the Carolinas’ reliable, low cost electric service and the quality of life afforded by the lakes created for its power generation capacity.
Duke Power is bringing together a specially selected group of key policy, business and social leaders to focus on the challenges we face and the opportunities to transform our region. Together, they will highlight strategies and approaches to enhance regional economic development. In addition to hearing high-powered speakers, those in attendance will have a chance to engage and interact on topics including the future role of manufacturing in the Carolinas, key competitive advantages and the drives of economic development transformation.
Given the loss of 130,000 jobs in North Carolina and 100,000 in South Carolina in the last three years, we are desperate to attract new and relocating businesses and encourage the expansion of existing businesses in this region. And, in light of Duke Power’s initiative in attracting the textile industry from New England several decades ago substantially spurring our region’s economic development, we may well benefit from their expertise in identifying the next wave of business attractions that will provide jobs for our workers and futures for our families.
One significant aspect of economic development that seems to be missing or at least not highlighted on Duke Power’s seminar agenda for discussion is the encouragement of entrepreneurialism and the nurturing of already existing businesses for growth and expansion. Where is the attention to job creation within our region via the expansion of resources available to small and mid-sized companies to expand/change their product/service lines and maintain/expand their labor force?
According to SBA figures, 96 percent of all employers in North Carolina have fewer than 100 employees. Nearly half of North Carolina’s 3,385,492 workers in 2000 were employed by small businesses. Collectively, small businesses contribute more than 50 percent of the gross domestic product and almost 80 percent of the economy’s new jobs. These numbers are not aberrant; they have remained relatively constant for the last twenty years. They are well known, but often overlooked in economic development circles. Small businesses are the real key to economic growth. They create, innovate, grow, and expand.
Unfortunately, many communities and economic developers focus their limited time, attention and resources on business attraction from outside the region rather than on stimulating extant and developing businesses that can substantially contribute to the expansion of jobs and growth. Relocating businesses are certainly important and valuable when they bring large numbers of jobs at one time, but steady job growth and a diversified business base serve longer-term economic interests more immediately and effectively. To a large degree, the Charlotte region and the Carolinas are well positioned to turn on the job generation process, especially in light of the number and quality of educational institutions offering research support and job training/retraining resources.
Bringing together government, business, education and financial resources, and leaders at the Duke Power seminar provides an opportunity to target areas for economic growth such as tourism, nanotechnology, bioengineering and biotechnologies, robotics and defense-related industries. That is good. Hopefully, the discussion will recognize that we have many homegrown entrepreneurs and businesses that have survived rough times and are growing and succeeding, and consider how best to direct resources to help them develop in those directions.
While we support and encourage efforts to attract business activity into our region, let’s make sure we are equally anxious about and assiduous in providing growth opportunities to our existing regional business base.