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North Carolina Sub-State Occupational Employment Projections 2017 – 2026

Monday, May 13, 2019
Oleksandr Movchan

The North Carolina Department of Commerce prepares 10-year projections of employment for nearly 90 industries and 800 occupations for statewide and sub-state areas. These projections are an estimate of the future demand for workers based on historical employment data and various economic factors.

The following summary analyzes information on employment growth for sixteen Sub-State Regions across the state for the 2017-2026 period2 and provides key findings by major occupational groups.3

Key Highlights:

  • All sixteen prosperity sub-zones are expected to add new jobs by 2026, with the fastest growth being projected in the traditionally economically active Wilmington, Charlotte, and Raleigh-Durham areas. Rocky Mount-Wilson is projected to be the slowest growing region with only 0.1% more jobs created between 2017 and 2026.
  • More than a third of the new jobs in the state are expected to be added in the Charlotte region, which alone is expected to gain more jobs than fourteen other Prosperity Zone sub-regions combined (excluding Raleigh-Durham).  While traditionally known for its financial sector, Charlotte is projected to create six out of ten Construction and Extraction jobs in North Carolina and five out of ten jobs in Arts, Design, Entertainment, Sports, and Media. 
  • Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, and Wilmington are also expected to be the only three regions with more than half of the new jobs earning $30,000 or more in annual median wages. For remaining regions, most of the new jobs are expected to be at the lower end of the pay scale (less than $30,000).
  • Production occupations will experience very uneven dynamics across the state — while seven regions are projected to gain production jobs, nine are expected to lose jobs.
  • Healthcare Support occupations, Computer and Mathematical occupations, and Personal Care and Service occupations are projected to be the fastest growing occupational groups in all areas. 
  • However, in terms of new net jobs and job openings, first place across all Prosperity Zone sub-regions is projected to be taken by the relatively low-paid and high-turnover Food Preparation and Serving Related occupations. Depending on the area, 11% to 44% of all new jobs created between 2017 and 2026 are expected to be related to food preparation and serving. In Rocky Mount-Wilson, with only 56 total additional jobs projected by 2026, Food Preparation & Serving occupations will account for 790 new jobs over this period.
  • In all regions jobs that require at least some post-secondary education for entry are expected to grow faster than those that have lower educational attainment requirements. Despite that, more than half of all jobs created across all regions will still require either no formal education or only a high school diploma.

Total Employment

For the 2017-2026 period, overall employment is projected to expand in all Prosperity Zone Sub-Regions, with rates of growth ranging from 0.1% in Rocky Mount-Wilson to 14.4% in Wilmington (Figure 1). The largest increases will be seen in Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, adding about 132,000 and 96,000 new jobs, respectively (Figure 2). These two regions are also projected to be among the state’s fastest-growing areas, with estimated increases of 11.1% and 9.0%, respectively, by 2026. Wilmington, the 8th largest workforce among all sub-regions, is projected to be the next biggest gainer, adding nearly 24,000 jobs (a 14.4% increase) by 2026.

Figure 1. Projected Total Employment Growth Rate by Prosperity Zone Sub-Region, 2017-2026

Major Occupational Groups

Table 1 shows occupational employment projections in percentage change over the 2017-2026 period. 

  • Wilmington is projected to be the fastest-growing Prosperity Zone sub-region, with double-digit percentage growth rates in nearly all major occupational groups.
  • Rocky Mount-Wilson is expected to see either job losses or a very moderate job growth across the majority of occupations, with only Food Preparation and Serving Related occupations seeing a substantial increase.
  • Office and Administrative Support occupations; Sales and Related occupations; and Food Preparation and Serving Related occupations consistently represent the three largest groups by employment in all sub-regions. All three are expected to remain the largest occupational groups in 2026.  
    • Office and Administrative Support occupations are projected to expand moderately in nine out of sixteen sub-regions; the largest job growth is expected to take place in Wilmington (+8.5%), Charlotte (+5.1%), and Asheville (+4.2%). Seven other areas will see a decline with the largest decreases projected in Rocky Mount-Wilson (-5.4%) and Elizabeth City (-3.3%).
    • Sales and Related occupations are projected to grow across all regions except for Rocky Mount-Wilson. The fastest three regions will be Wilmington (+10.8%), Charlotte (+8.9%), and Jacksonville-New Bern (+8.6%).
    • Food Preparation and Serving Related occupations will add jobs across all regions due to population and restaurant growth. The percentage of new jobs created will range from +4.5% in Elizabeth City to +17.2% in Waynesville-Franklin.
  • Healthcare Support occupations; Computer and Mathematical occupations; and Personal Care and Service occupations are projected to be the fastest growing occupational groups in most of the regions.
  • Employment in Education, Training, and Library occupations will experience moderate job growth (ranging from +0.1% to +19.7%) in all areas except Greensboro, which is expected to see a modest decline.
  • Production occupations are expected to exhibit uneven growth; while seven regions are projected to add jobs, the remaining nine are projected to see a decline in production employment.    

Table 1. Sub-state Employment Projections (% change) by Major Occupational Group, 2017-2026

Along with the overall employment change projections, LEAD also produces projections for the job openings created by labor market turnover. Occupational employment projections estimate such job openings when workers either exit the labor force or leave an occupation to enter a different occupation and need to be replaced. For most occupations, these occupational separations provide significantly more job openings than employment growth does. Moreover, even in declining occupations, there might be numerous job openings each year. As Table 2 shows, high numbers of job openings are expected across all regions in occupations with traditionally high turnover rates and lower pay — Food Preparation and Serving Related occupations, Sales and Related occupations, and Office and Administrative Support occupations.

Table 2. Projected Sub-state Job Openings (in numeric change) by Major Occupational Group, 2017-2026

(Note: coloring scheme is individual for each geographic area and is based on the area relative employment size)

Educational Attainment

In terms of the minimum educational requirements for entry4, the majority of new jobs in all regions will require no formal education or only a high school diploma; however, there are substantial variations between regions (see Figure 3) — from 52% in Raleigh-Durham to 81% in Waynesville-Franklin. 

The highest demand for occupations that typically require a Bachelor’s degree will be seen in Raleigh-Durham (34% of all new jobs projected), Charlotte (32%), and Winston-Salem (31%).  

Approximately 3% to 10% of new jobs will be added in fields that require a Master’s, Doctoral or Professional degree; the fastest growth will be seen in Boone-Wilkesboro (10%) and Raleigh-Durham (9%).

As growth rates and numbers of jobs with different entry-level educational requirements are expected to change, so will the composition of North Carolina’s labor force. Figure 4 illustrates this change, from 2017 to 2026, in the proportion of jobs requiring a high school education or less and those requiring post-secondary education. 

For all but two areas it is expected that the share of people employed in jobs that require at least some post-secondary education will go up over the next nine years. Jacksonville-New Bern and Waynesville-Franklin are the only regions that are projected to have an increase in the proportion of jobs that require no more than a high school education.

Raleigh-Durham, which currently has the highest ratio of people employed in jobs that demand education above the high school level, is expected to keep this ranking in 2026 as well.

Wages and Compensation

All but three regions (Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, and Wilmington) will see over half of the new jobs created between 2017 and 2026 earning a median annual wage of less than $30,000 (see Figure 5). Rocky Mount-Wilson and Elizabeth City both are projected to see the highest percentage of these lower wage jobs. 

More than one-fifth of the new jobs added in Raleigh-Durham and Charlotte (24% and 22%, respectively) will earn above $70,000 in median annual wages during the projection period. These two areas, along with Wilmington, will also experience the largest increases in middle-income jobs, with median annual wages ranging between $30,000 and $70,000.



1Projections assume full employment for the economy in the projected year, thus the projections are not intended to be an economic forecast of future employment.

2Statewide projections for the 2017-2026 period are available at

3Sub-State industry projections for the 2017-2026 period are available at