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By KJ HIRAMOTO Hickory Daily Record
Posted: Thursday, March 10, 2016 10:00 am | Updated: 1:40 pm, Thu Mar 10, 2016.

HICKORY – Wells Fargo Managing Director and Senior Economist Mark Vitner said he remembers the dark times of the manufacturing industry, particularly with regards to the impact the mass outsourcing of jobs have had on Catawba County in the late-2000s.

Vitner said the impact of China’s ascension in the global economy led to the county suffering from one of the largest job losses out of any county in the United States.

“Our unemployment rate went up from 1.8 percent to about 9 percent in the matter of two years,” Vitner said. “That’s pretty remarkable.”

Vitner went on say that with many of the families choosing to persevere and stay in the area, a big handful of the businesses in Catawba County were able to recover in some way.

“We’re fortunate that so many of the businesses that have grown up in Hickory, chose to stay here,” Vitner said. “Even though history had us going south.”

The Catawba County Chamber of Commerce hosted its second Future of Catawba County Summit on Wednesday, as a way to give economists and city officials a chance discuss the economic outlook through both a local and national perspective.

Vitner addressed some of the major issues surrounding the global and national economy while Catawba County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) President Scott Millar presented the county’s economic outlook before the sold out crowd of about 250 people.

Vitner said he expect the county’s economy to grow by two percent in 2016. He said that the domestic demands will remain strong, which would offset the sluggish global economic growth.

Millar reported that the $513 million worth of total investments that were being made by the county’s businesses in 2015 led to an employment growth of about 434 jobs. He also said that between 2011 and 2015, the county averaged a job growth of about 506 people each year.

“There’s no community that bootstraps itself like the Catawba County,” Millar said.

Millar concluded in his presentation that while the county is trending economically, business will need to be serious about bringing in enough people to their work force in order to avoid a serious “headrest” in the economy.

The Chamber’s President Danny Hearn agreed with Millar’s concern about meeting the minimum demands of workers, as he said that the Chamber’s number one priority is bringing more people in to the county’s workforce. Hearn went on to encourage the summit’s attendees to also place a lot thought about the term “workforce,” each and every morning they wake up.

Hickory Mayor Rudy Wright said the improvements in transportation and economic development from the city’s $40 million bond projects will align with Chamber’s vision of attracting the younger generation of workforce into the city.

Wright also said that the amount of the bond is a massive investment for a city like Hickory. He said that if the city of Charlotte were to make an investment of similar proportions, the referendum equivalent of that would be around $1 billion.

“That would have been earth shattering,” Wright said. “$40 million is a lot of money for our people to assess.”

Wright added that while the city won’t be able to use its allocated funds from the bond anytime soon, he said the recent increase in retail sale poses a sign for good things to come.

“I think we’re doing the right things,” Wright said.


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