Gov. Cooper and NC business leaders grapple with attracting more people to the state's workforce

Joel Brown Image
Tuesday, February 14, 2023
Gov. Cooper, NC business leaders grapple with increasing the workforce
Gov. Cooper spoke at the Emerging Issues Forum at the McKimmon Center in Raleigh.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- With all the good news about North Carolina's economy in recent years, the state is also grappling with very real headwinds. And that was the focus of this year's Emerging Issues Forum at the McKimmon Center in Raleigh.

The state's labor participation rate is still lower than it was before the pandemic. And there's an alarming rate of North Carolinians leaving the workforce all together -- including lots of women with children, unmarried men and people with disabilities.

At the forum in Raleigh, Gov. Roy Cooper's message came in two parts. The first was a victory lap.

"North Carolina has had amazing success over the last few years: jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs," he told the packed crowd as he pointed to the high-profile economic development wins of his administration: Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft all moving to or expanding in North Carolina.

Boom Supersonic jets and VinFast electric cars both selected North Carolina for North American manufacturing plants.

But, the second part of Cooper's message was about the warning signs ahead.

"What keeps you up at night is with all the jobs created, making sure we have the workforce to fill them," he said.

Those concerns were the focus of this annual gathering of North Carolina economic experts and thought leaders -- the state's need for more workers of all backgrounds and skill sets to keep North Carolina competitive in a global diverse economy.

At first glance, the state's 3.4% unemployment rate looks good. But factor in the number of under-employed people and people involuntarily working part-time -- the rate jumps to 8.4%, one of the highest in the South.

"We made a goal with My Future NC to get two million more adult North Carolinians into the workforce by 2030," Cooper said. "We may even need more now."

How does the state expand its workforce? Cooper suggested leveraging North Carolina's 800,000 veterans; Allowing in more immigrants; retraining the formerly incarcerated; and encouraging governments and private businesses to increase the hiring of people with disabilities.

"We can attract the jobs. Those jobs can be created by business people. But if we don't have strong, smart, dedicated, diverse people to fill those positions, then we got a problem," Cooper said.

After the forum, the governor told reporters that a healthy workforce is also an important factor in the discussion. To that end, he's encouraging state lawmakers to finally expand Medicaid coverage in the state.

He's expressing confidence that this is the year Republicans and Democrats can get it done.