How has North Carolina’s Economy changed since 1990?

Wednesday, September 29, 2021
Author: 
Jamie Vaughn

North Carolina’s economy has grown in the past 30 years, but in what industries, and by how much?  The Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) data accessible via D4.nccommerce.com recently added industry employment data all the way back to 1990.  This blog article will review this newly available data and share what has happened in the state’s economic activities over the 1990-2020 period.   

Let’s start by looking at the big picture statewide:

  Establishments Avg. Employment
1990 153,184 3,079,107
2020 298,296 4,321,018
Source: NC Department of Commerce/LEAD, Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW); Statewide 1990 & 2020 Annual

Employment increased statewide and so did the number of establishments . Between 1990 and 2020, statewide annual average employment increased by 1,241,911 or 40%.

To understand where some of the changes in the state’s economy have occurred over the last 30 years you can compare employment by Industry Sector (2-digit NAICS).  

To take us back and set the stage, in 1990 MC Hammer’s “Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em” was the top album for 21 weeks, “Cheers” was everyone’s favorite TV show, “Ghost” was the biggest draw at the box office and the Manufacturing industry was North Carolina’s top employer.  Manufacturing provided roughly two out of every seven jobs in the state – employment is more than double in Retail Trade and triple in Health Care & Social Assistance. Employment in these three largest industry sectors accounted for nearly half of the overall statewide employment.

NC Establishments and Average Employment by Industry Sector, 1990

Industry (2-digit NAICS) Establishments Avg. Employment % NC Avg. Employment
Manufacturing 11,370 843,236 27.4%
Retail Trade 30,182 393,045 12.8%
Health Care & Social Assistance 10,251 263,401 8.6%
Educational Services 981 233,172 7.6%
Accommodation & Food Services 10,044 209,831 6.8%
Construction 20,252 166,985 5.4%
Wholesale Trade 13,110 142,215 4.6%
Admin. & Support & Waste Mgmt. & Remed. Svcs. 6,192 108,744 3.5%
Finance & Insurance 6,067 106,654 3.5%
Transportation & Warehousing 4,381 97,784 3.2%
Prof., Sci., & Tech. Services 9,885 84,779 2.8%
Other Services (expt. Public Admin) 15,900 78,132 2.5%
Information 1,719 58,735 1.9%
Real Estate & Rental & Leasing 5,300 32,693 1.1%
Arts, Entertainment, & Recreation 1,895 31,660 1.0%
Utilities 290 28,188 0.9%
Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing & Hunting 1,842 21,841 0.7%
Mining 162 4,280 0.1%
Mgmt. of Companies & Enterprises * * N/A
Public Admin. * * N/A
Source: NC Dept. of Commerce/LEAD, QCEW, Statewide 1990 Annual; *Data is unavailable due to suppression
 

Over the past 3 decades, most sectors have added jobs.  Three industry sectors have seen employment numbers more than double: Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services; Administration and Support and Waste Management and Remediation Services; and Health Care & Social Assistance.  On the contrary, three industry sectors have lost employment: Mining; Utilities; and Manufacturing.

% Growth in Industry Sector Employment, 1990 to 2020

Source: Generated by LEAD using QCEW data, Statewide 1990 & 2020 Annual

In 2020, North Carolina’s industry employment base has become more diversified.  Five industry sectors, Health Care & Social Assistance; Retail Trade; Manufacturing; Educational Services; and Accommodations & Food Services, together accounted for about half of the total employment statewide.  Health Care & Social Assistance, the sector with the largest employment in NC, contributed one out of every seven jobs in the state.

NC Establishments and Average Employment by Industry Sector, 2020

Industry (2-digit NAICS) Establishments Avg. Employment % NC Avg. Employment
Health Care & Social Asst. 26,223 617,004 14.3%
Retail Trade 35,078 495,464 11.5%
Manufacturing 10,314 452,389 10.5%
Educational Services 6,880 367,196 8.5%
Accom. & Food Services 22,690 365,960 8.5%
Admin. & Support & Waste Mgmt. & Remed. Svcs. 20,906 289,912 6.7%
Prof., Sci., & Tech. Services 42,219 269,771 6.2%
Public Admin. 2,614 248,335 5.7%
Construction 29,213 229,238 5.3%
Finance & Insurance 16,076 192,320 4.5%
Wholesale Trade 20,620 182,661 4.2%
Transportation & Warehousing 8,455 179,932 4.2%
Other Services (expt. Public Admin) 26,032 109,064 2.5%
Mgmt. of Companies & Enterprises 1,835 82,566 1.9%
Information 6,391 74,439 1.7%
Arts, Entertainment, & Recreation 4,485 59,932 1.4%
Real Estate & Rental & Leasing 14,202 59,748 1.4%
Ag., Forestry, Fishing & Hunting 3,208 26,318 0.6%
Utilities 646 15,628 0.4%
Mining 211 3,141 0.1%
Source: NC Dept. of Commerce/LEAD, QCEW, Statewide 2020 Annual

Data from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages can help answer a lot more questions about what happened in North Carolina’s economic activity over the years.  In the coming months we will review the data and provide additional insight through LEAD Feed articles and on LEAD’s Twitter account.  Stay tuned!