The First in Talent: Strategic Economic Development Plan for the State of North Carolina offers a road map and recommendations for economic development in North Carolina and serves as an important reference point for policymakers and economic developers in the state.

Click here to download the plan

The plan sets three overall goals for the state, and then outlines 14 strategies and related tactics to achieve these goals.

Learn more about the plan's goals and the progress the state is making towards reaching those goals in the sections below.  You'll also find answers to questions we frequently hear about the plan, as well as contact information for the people who can help you become engaged with this important work in your community. 

Updates, Stats, and Plan Resources

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The First in Talent's first goal focuses on the state's workers, and ways we can help people prepare themselves to succeed in today's labor market. Here are a few economic statistics that are relevant to Goal 1 of the plan.

  July 2021 June 2022
Unemployment Rate 4.9% 3.4% (latest available data, from April 2022)
Labor Force Participation Rate 59.7% 60.1% (latest available data, from April 2022)
% of North Carolinians aged 35-44 earning a living wage 54% to be updated this fall
High School Graduation Rate (withing 4 years) 87% to be updated this fall
2 Year Public College Completion Rate (within 6 years of enrollment) 46% to be updated this fall
4 Year Public College Completion Rate (within 6 years of enrollment) 78% to be updated this fall
Registered Apprentices 7,939 9,065 (latest available data, from January 2022)

Goal One Program Highlights

  • Working towards making North Carolina the top state for Work Based Learning, local partners in Halifax as well as state-wide partners collaborated to create the Halifax Lighthouse Solar Camp, offering on-the-job training and three industry certifications.
  • Governor Cooper also signed Executive Order 246 encouraging The North Carolina Business Committee for Education, in partnership with state agencies and stakeholders, to establish clean energy youth apprenticeship programs in at least five (5) learning sites, with an emphasis on educational institutions that serve underrepresented communities.

Contact | Goal 1 Program Team

For more information about the current work being done in this goal area of the plan, contact:

Annie Izod
North Carolina Department of Commerce
annie.izod@commerce.nc.gov

Goal 2 of the First in Talent plan focuses on the state's businesses, and ways executives and business owners can better position their companies to attract the workers they need.

  July 2021 June 2022
Employment in N.C. Businesses 4,515,068 4,628,002 (latest available data, from October 2021) 
Business Establishments 318,416 324,729  (latest available data, from October 2021) 
Historically Underutilized Business Registrations (HUB)  4,235 5,800

Business Engagement Metrics

Metric July 1, 2021 through June 10, 2022
Number of companies supported by the state's* Existing Industy team 1,074
Number of minority and woman-owned businesses supported by the state's* Existing Industy team 174
Number of companies supported by the state's* International Trade team 610
Number of minority and woman-owned businesses supported by the state's* International Trade team 149
Number of minority and woman-owned businesses supported by the state's* Small Business Advisors 4,869**
*via the Economic Development Partnerhip of N.C. (EDPNC)
**includes veteran-owned businesses

Goal 2 Program Highlights

  • Business services groups are coming together to jointly train their business engagement staff on Family Friendly Policies that will help employers recruit, retain and support their employees, while supporting our next generation. The team from Family Forward NC will lead the training and it will serve representatives from the Economic Development Partnership for North Carolina, the Department of Commerce, The Small Business Technology Development Centers, the Small Business Center Networks, and other interested business-serving organizations.

Contact | Goal 2 Program Team

For more information about the current work being done in this goal area of the plan, contact:

Susan Fleetwood
North Carolina Department of Commerce
sfleetwood@nccommerce.com

Goal 3 of the First in Talent plan focuses on the state's communities, and ways officials and local leaders can make the necessary preparations to help their communities become more competitive in attracting workers and the businesses that rely on those trained and available workers.

  July 2021 June 2022
Counties Receiving Grants 41 42
Grant Dollars Awarded in Previous Year $16,056,075 $16,667,465
Broadband Access Investments approximately $15 million annually investing $971 million before the end of 2026

Goal 3 Program Highlights

  • The Rural Transformation Grant Fund will offer grants, training, and technical assistance to local units of governments that help communities acquire critical resources, advance project implementation, build local capacity, and respond to critical issues relating to COVID-19 recovery. The grant and engagement programming will help rural communities revitalize main street and downtown districts, seed and advance initiatives that build local capacity, revitalize, and strengthen neighborhoods, foster small business recovery/sustainability, and support economic growth.

Contact | Goal 3 Program Team

For more information about the current work being done in this goal area of the plan, contact:

Melody Adams
North Carolina Department of Commerce
melody.adams@commerce.nc.gov 

To receive updates about the implemetation of the state's strategic economic development plan, including notices about future events or meetings, sign up for our First in Talent mailing list. 

Q. What is the First in Talent plan?

The First in Talent plan is the strategic economic development plan for the State of North Carolina. The North Carolina Department of Commerce is statutorily required to develop the state’s comprehensive economic development plan and provide updates on the status of the plan annually. Commerce released the First in Talent plan in July 2021, which outlines North Carolina’s vision for economic development for the next four years. The plan’s strategy focuses on the universally recognized importance that talent has for business growth, career success, and community preparedness. The plan outlines three goals to guide the state’s strategy:

  1. Prepare North Carolina’s workforce for career and entrepreneurial success.
  2. Prepare North Carolina’s businesses for success by growing and attracting a talented workforce.
  3. Prepare communities across North Carolina to be more competitive in growing and attracting a talented workforce and businesses.

Q. How will the N.C. Department of Commerce partner with other entities to implement the goals in the First in Talent plan?

The First in Talent plan is designed for all people and communities in the state. It is representative of collaborative partnerships, both public and private, with a shared responsibility to invest in our state’s talent pipeline and to build more desirable places to work and to live.

Commerce is currently partnering with stakeholders to develop a four-year implementation plan and to advance policies aligned with the plan’s underlying theme- workforce and talent development.

Organizations that would like to receive more information about the First in Talent plan can sign up for the email distribution list here.

Q. What strategies and tactics are included in the plan to emphasize equity in the state’s economic development strategy?

A lens of greater inclusion and equity was applied to the entire First in Talent plan and is apparent in the strategies identified to support each of the plan’s three key goals. The Covid-19 pandemic taught us that intentional efforts must be made to address inequities that exist in our health and education systems, our economy, and in our environment. For example, the First in Talent plan outlines strategies to increase access to high-quality early childhood education, to increase participation in work-based learning opportunities for populations most disproportionately impacted by Covid-19, and to enhance systems to better support populations with barriers to employment. Expanded strategies and new approaches are required to ensure an available and skilled workforce.

A complete list of the 14 strategies included in the plan is available on page 4 of the First in Talent plan here.

Q. What strategies are included in the plan to support Historically Underutilized Businesses (HUBs)?

Increased investments in the people who manage our businesses, lead our communities, and operate our workplaces will improve the economic conditions for all North Carolinians and, in-turn, support a more diverse business environment. However, tactical recommendations are included to deliberately “bolster a robust small business recovery, inclusive of opportunities for new entrepreneurs and women and minority owned firms.”

Tactic 7.3 calls for enhancements to educational and business resources to promote the success of North Carolina’s women and minority owned businesses as exemplified by increased employment and revenue. To do so, the state should increase funding to NC’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and support recommendations outlined in the Andrea Harris Task Force’s 2021 Biannual Report and the Department of Administration’s Disparity Study Report.

Strategic partnerships with organizations providing services to small businesses and historically underutilized businesses must be leveraged to support the recovery, growth, and development of small businesses, historically underutilized businesses, and entrepreneurs.

Q. How does the state’s new economic development strategy support rural communities?

The third goal in the First in Talent plan is to prepare communities across North Carolina to be more competitive in growing and attracting a talented workforce and businesses. To become a First in Talent state, North Carolina must bolster its efforts to build healthy, resilient, and connected communities. Vibrant communities produce, attract, and retain top-quality workers and entrepreneurs. Several strategies are named in the plan to build healthier communities, expand access to downtown redevelopment assistance, and to expand physical infrastructure support in rural communities.

For more information, please visit the Rural Economic Development Division’s webpage.

Q. Why does the plan focus on talent and workforce development instead of other traditional aspects of economic development like industry specific strategies, incentive grants, and increased funding for economic development work?

Every business survey conducted nationally and in the state identifies acquiring and growing the right talent as a crucial factor to a business’s success, making it the single most important issue to ensure North Carolina’s competitiveness.

Recent improvements such as an increase in the cap for the state’s incentive program, Job Development Investment Grant (JDIG) and decreased corporate tax rates have led to the state’s recent success with new jobs and investment announcements. North Carolina is now well positioned to remain competitive for economic development opportunities in our targeted industry sectors- aerospace, automotive, clean energy, information technology and life science.

Now is the time for a renewed focus on recruiting and retaining the talent necessary to meet current and future workforce needs.

For more information, please read the First in Talent plan Executive Summary.