For five years, four Southeastern states have had impressive growth in their manufacturing sectors. Now construction slowdowns and trade policies paint an uncertain future.
North Carolina, for example, generated $102 billion in manufacturing in 2017, compared with $92 billion four years earlier. That growth contributed to a surge in jobs. “In terms of head count, 468,000 North Carolina residents work in manufacturing today, up 25,000 from five years ago,” says Chris Chung, CEO at the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina.
Bristol, Virginia-based Strongwell reported rising demand for its fiber-reinforced polymer composites in 2017 that coincided with “an uptick in oil and gas and commercial construction,” says Barry Myers, Strongwell’s corporate marketing manager.
Meanwhile in Georgia, Georgia Manufacturing Alliance CEO Jason Moss says, “Wages are increasing, because we’re all competing for the same people.”
Yet there are signs things are starting to cool. MTI Baths, a supplier of bath fixtures in Sugar Hill, Georgia, reports its double-digit annual growth halted, with a recent housing slowdown. “One reason is that the cost of materials is soaring,” CEO Kathy Adams says. Another: millennials aren’t buying enough houses to fuel the market. The spector of tariffs and renegotiated trade deals is not helping, says Stephen Moret, president and CEO at the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. “We’re seeing activity, but uncertainty makes economic development less resilient,” he says.