Uncovering the Factors that Shaped North Carolina's Economy

This article explores how North Carolina's economy has changed over time from its colonial roots to its modern-day success.

Uncovering the Factors that Shaped North Carolina's Economy

North Carolina has a long and storied history of economic development, from its colonial roots to its modern-day success. Despite the financial turmoil of the Great Depression, North Carolina emerged during World War II with great promise. During the colonial period and until the beginning of statehood, around 95 percent of North Carolinians were employed in agriculture and related industries. The 19th and early 20th centuries saw the tremendous growth of North Carolina's aptly named “Big Three” industries: tobacco, textiles, and furniture.

Today, Western North Carolina is in a state of flux due to a slowdown in regional economic growth. Between 1970 and 1980, the average total value of a residential unit increased 206.3 percent in WNC and 181.3 percent in North Carolina as a whole. This research includes direct visitor spending estimates for all 100 counties in North Carolina, as well as expenses, payroll, employment, state tax receipts, and local tax receipts. For example, Table 3-5 shows that the employment rates for arts and recreation services in WNC and North Carolina as a whole are 2.1 percent and 1.9 percent respectively, resulting in a location ratio of 1.13 (the result of the regional percentage divided by the state percentage).

North Carolina's economy has changed drastically since its establishment as an English colony in the 17th century. While some planters owned large tracts of land, most North Carolinians maintained small farms and grew crops such as tobacco, corn, peas, beans, wheat, rice, and a variety of fruits. After 1900, infrastructure for further economic progress began to appear in the state with major improvements to transportation facilities, educational initiatives, urban and rural electrification, and modernization of agricultural and industrial production. The highest percentage of change in housing units for North Carolina and WNC specifically was between 1970 and 1980.

Buncombe County nursing facilities house approximately 3.76 percent of all nursing patients in the state of North Carolina. The proportion of the region's population between 18 and 64 years old was 60.7 percent - the lowest in the state except for the Northeast region. North Carolina is a national leader in the production of sweet potatoes, dried beans, tobacco, pigs, broilers (chickens) and turkeys. Textile mills of all kinds, factories manufacturing a variety of tobacco products, and dozens of manufacturers of high-quality furniture were established - creating jobs for thousands of North Carolinians.

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