RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Gov. Roy Cooper's Office highlighted a "record-breaking number of jobs" in a year-end recap, noting large-scale announcements in several counties, including Chatham, Rowan, and Guilford.
"This year, we've made once-in-a-generation investments to help our families and communities grow and thrive. Our progress has made sure our state continues to be the best place for people to live, learn, work and raise a family. I've never been more excited about North Carolina's future," said Cooper, in a news release distributed by his office.
The state touted the creation of more than 28,300 jobs, led by VinFast, a Vietnamese auto manufacturer, which pledged 7,500 jobs in Chatham County.
"I've watched North Carolina grow and North Carolina transform its economy from one based on tobacco, textiles, and furniture to new technology, banking, pharmaceuticals, and now we're developing this new energy sector," said economist Dr. Michael Walden, a professor emeritus at NC State University.
Rural counties were benefactors of much of the growth, with Walden pointing to the ample space as a positive for the building of manufacturing plants and warehouses.
"The metro areas in North Carolina have boomed in the 21st century, but in many cases, a lot of the rural counties have been left out. So I think we want to see these kind of announcements where the locations will be in rural counties, or at least in counties not as urbanized as some of the big counties that are adjacent to those counties, because that's where it spreads out the economic benefits. Those locations are able to tap into rural labor forces, and rural labor forces have not had the kind of opportunity for higher-paying jobs that some people in the urban counties have," said Walden.
Cooper's office highlighted the Longleaf Commitment Grant, which provides money for community college students to address affordability concerns.
"We have great universities, great community colleges, so when a business comes in and needs a workforce trained in a particular way, our community colleges step up and often design specialized programs," Walden said.
However, challenges still remain in filling those jobs.
"The entire state of North Carolina is considered a child care desert for infants and toddlers, which means on average there's five babies who need childcare but only one slot available," explained Jenna Nelson, Executive Director of North Carolina Early Education Coalition.
Nelson said the pandemic exacerbated pre-existing issues, forcing some people to leave the workforce.
"The number one thing we're hearing from childcare owners right now is that they could open more classrooms but they don't have the staff to fill it," said Nelson.
Nelson said childcare centers suffer from low-staffing levels and low pay due to increased competition from other professions, adding strengthening its workforce could have a positive ripple effect.
"If the legislature was able to expand Medicaid for example, that would increase the likelihood that a childcare teacher would be able to have healthcare," Nelson explained.
North Carolina's minimum wage is in line with the federal minimum, and its unemployment benefits are some of the lowest nationally.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, North Carolina's unemployment rate of 3.9% is slightly above the national average of 3.7%.