15 Facts About North Carolina's Economy That May Surprise You

NEWS & TRENDING - JOBS & CAREER NEWS
Explore the unexpected industries driving North Carolina's economic growth.
Updated April 11, 2024
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Beyond its southern charm, North Carolina boasts a robust economy. 

From fertile fields to cutting-edge research labs, the state fosters diverse industries that fuel a thriving job market and empower its residents to build wealth.

Check out these fascinating facts about North Carolina’s business, employment, and more.

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North Carolina leads the nation in tobacco and sweet potato production

Attasit/Adobe tobacco leaves

Although neither of these crops is North Carolina’s top agricultural producer, the state grows more tobacco and sweet potatoes than anywhere else in the U.S. North Carolina’s top crops by acreage are corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, and hay.

North Carolina is the “Furniture Capital of the World”

mavoimages/Adobe furniture designer sanding

Removing water from the acreage total, North Carolina is 60% forest. The abundance of lumber has led to a booming furniture and wood processing industry, making the state (particularly the city of High Point) the “Furniture capital of the world.”

This state is home to the Research Triangle

pabrady63/Adobe old well

In addition to its manufacturing and agricultural industries, North Carolina hosts many jobs and innovations in research and development. 

The Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area (dubbed the Research Triangle) is home to several universities that fuel various technological research and development activities.

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North Carolina has two deepwater ports

Bennekom/Adobe cape fear river

The cities of Wilmington and Morehead City are home to North Carolina’s two deepwater ports that ship cargo all over the world. These ports ship over four million tons of cargo each year. There’s also one inland port in Charlotte.

North Carolina’s economy is comparable to Norway’s

Tomas Marek/Adobe fishing village undredal

According to research by CEOWorld, North Carolina’s gross domestic product (GDP) for 2023 was just over $565 billion — around the same size as several developed countries. For perspective, Norway’s GDP for the same period was $554 billion.

North Carolina is the third-largest banking center in the U.S.

SeanPavonePhoto/Adobe charlotte north carolina

With a highly educated workforce and the lowest corporate tax rate in the U.S., North Carolina has attracted many global financial companies. 

According to the Charlotte Region Business Alliance, the Charlotte area alone supports over 91,000 jobs in the finance industry.

The unemployment rate is slightly lower than the U.S. average

dusanpetkovic1/Adobe Individuals seated in chairs with portfolios prior to job interview.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals that North Carolina’s unemployment rate is slightly lower than the U.S. at large — 3.5% vs 3.7%. Except for the pandemic years, the state’s unemployment rate has maintained steady lows since about 2017.

Life insurance is the biggest industry in North Carolina

Eric/Adobe selling life insurance to senior

By revenue, the biggest money-maker for the Tar Heel State is life insurance and annuities. According to IBISWorld, this industry was responsible for $60.6 billion in revenue in 2023. The next-largest industries are commercial banking and hospitals.

The state is the largest employer

Drobot Dean/Adobe male and female employers shaking hand with asian female employee after making deal at work

The North Carolina government employs 1.6% of its workforce, approximately 82,000 people. Walmart (1.2%) and Duke University (0.9%) are the next-largest employers.

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Information is the fastest-growing job sector

joyfotoliakid/Adobe programmer developing software using two monitors on table in discussion with colleague

Jobs in telecom, video games, software publishing, and more are hot, growing 12.6% by 2023.

It has the 11th-largest economy in the nation

suriyapong/Adobe stock market or forex trading graph

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, North Carolina’s economy is growing steadily, at 4.6% annually as of Q3 2023. North Carolina is the sixth-most populous state in the nation.

North Carolina is the 6th most popular state for tourism

Alex Photo/Adobe man standing on top of cliff at sunset

With its white sand beaches of the Outer Banks, beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, and epic barbeque, it’s easy to see why North Carolina drew 43 million visitors in 2022. According to NC State University, this makes it the sixth most visited state in the nation.

14% of North Carolina’s energy is from renewable sources

dusanpetkovic1/Adobe handyman installing solar panels on the rooftop

This includes both utility-scale and small-scale sources. According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Solar eclipsed hydroelectric power as the largest source of the state’s renewable energy in 2017. 

As of 2022, solar was responsible for 9% of North Carolina’s energy in general and around 60% of renewable energy.

Many large companies began in North Carolina

Sharkshock/Adobe lowes home improvement

North Carolina gave rise to many companies you know and love, including Harris Teeter and Food Lion (grocery stores), Krispy Kreme doughnuts, Lowe’s, Hanes, and Pepsi. North Carolina is also home to nearly one million small businesses.

North Carolina has 85 colleges and universities

Chad Robertson/Adobe duke university chapel

These include nationally known names such as the various locations of the University of North Carolina, as well as Duke and Wake Forest Universities. It also includes several smaller colleges and numerous seminaries and schools of theology.

Bottom line

Lulla/Adobe North Carolina (USA) flag waving on the wind

North Carolina’s mild Atlantic climate and beautiful scenery make it a desirable place to call home. 

However, its thriving tech and banking sectors, low corporate tax rate, and abundant jobs and educational opportunities make that a real possibility for residents of the Tar Heel State.

North Carolina boasts a healthy economy that provides several ways for residents to make money and save for the future.

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Author Details

Jenni Sisson Jenni Sisson is a freelance writer and editor who focuses on personal finance, real estate, and entrepreneurship. She has been published in Business Insider and The Ways to Wealth. In addition to writing, Jenni hosts the Mama's Money Map podcast to help fellow stay-at-home moms on their journey to financial freedom.

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