DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Following a series of economic challenges that persisted through much of 2022, business leaders expressed confidence moving forward during Friday's Economic Forecast Forum.
The event, in its 21st year, was held inside the Sheraton Imperial Hotel in Durham, and it attracted about 1,000 attendees and featured remarks by Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond Chair and CEO Tom Barkin.
"The biggest challenge I still here is for skilled trades -- for carpenters, plumbers, nurses, truck drivers. North Carolina's got a great community college network and system, but enrollment in most of the country is down, and I think getting folks into these programs, getting companies to partner with these educational programs to bring more people into the workforce, is really what we need to do," said Barkin, in a one-on-one interview with ABC11.
North Carolina has made efforts to remove barriers to access for its community college program, namely in the Longleaf Commitment Grant, which offers funds for both full- and part-time students. Gary Salamido, President and CEO of the North Carolina Chamber, supported additional efforts to to include adult learners looking to make a career transition.
"I don't think people in our workforce are resigning, I think they're reassessing. And as they go through that reassessment, we're learning more about what the challenges are, about child care, about housing, about how to get places. We learned that we can learn online, and a combination of online learning and in-person is better than being there all the time," Salamido explained.
"Having that talent stay and recruiting that talent from an external standpoint allows us to be able to adapt when the environment adapts," added Creighton Blackwell, Chief Community and Public Affairs Officer for Coastal Credit Union.
Analysts have heaped praise on the state for its economic performance over the past few years, with North Carolina routinely rating as a top state nationally for business. The momentum grew in 2022 as several large-scale projects, including VinFast, WolfSpeed, Macy's, and Boom Supersonic, were announced.
"Diversification of our economy in our industry sectors is exactly the reason North Carolina is winning. We still have textiles and they're doing really well. We still have everything we had. Our agriculture sector is really strong, it may not be in tobacco but it's really strong. We have great financial institutions, manufacturing is a backbone, tech companies," said Salamido.
"There's been no shortage of challenges, and clearly North Carolina has done a really strong job in managing a lot of those headwinds, especially from the supply side, transportation side, tight labor markets. These have all been headwinds, but North Carolina's economy has continued to be strong," said Brian Daley, Head of Equity Strategy of CIO Office at Bank of America.
Stocks rallied Friday off a strong December jobs report, but still remained sharply down over the past year. Despite the end-of-week surge, the NASDAQ has fallen nearly 30% over the past year, the S&P about 17%, and the Dow at around 7%. Combined with record-high inflation forcing some to tap into savings accounts, and there's a growing focus on retirement goals and timelines.
"There's going to be times where we can only save a certain percentage because of those monthly bills, but always remember to still have that habit of saving," Blackwell said.
"For your long-term investment planning and investment goals, stick with the long-term plan. Don't let short-term moves and volatility shake you out of your plan. Number two, on the short end, for people who need more income, this is the first time in over a decade that we've been able to get some pretty good yields in the bond markets," added Daley.
On that front, there's signs of recovery. After 30-year interest rates topped 7% in early November, they've slowly ticked down, now at just over 6%.
"We learned this in the 70's, you've got to take care of inflation. You've got to do it aggressively, and you need to do it definitively," said Barkin.
Barkin, who was appointed in 2018, shared optimism for the year ahead.
"I think the word to use for 2023 is 'normalization'. We've been through a horrible pandemic, we've been through a lot of change -- whether it be fiscal stimulus, monetary stimulus, housing prices going up, housing prices going down -- but we're on the path to getting back to normal. Job gains are coming back to normal levels, inflation has peaked and is coming back toward normal levels. So think about getting back to normal, getting valuations back to normal, and then we can grow and build from there."