CARY — The area will likely make significant economic gains in 2014, according to a local economist.
Mike Walden, an economist at N.C. State University, told the Cary Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday that he expects the Raleigh-Cary area to experience a large chunk of the state’s job growth this year while reaching its lowest level of unemployment in years.
Walden spoke at the chamber’s annual economic forecast meeting at Prestonwood Country Club.
“I expect when the year is done, we’ll have added between 15,000 and 20,000 jobs in the area,” he said.
The job growth will likely knock the Triangle’s unemployment rate down to 5.2 percent, according to Walden.
“You can look forward to a much-improved economy,” he told the group of business leaders.
Walden’s predictions came a day after the N.C. Department of Commerce reported the Triangle’s jobless rate was 5.8 percent, its lowest level since October 2008.
His speech was laced with the word “back” – as in, “total loan value is back to pre-recession levels,” and “the housing market appears to have its traction back.”
The state will also make economic gains, he said, but rural areas may continue to struggle.
Walden expects North Carolina’s unemployment rate to fall from 7.4 percent to somewhere between 6.5 percent and 7 percent this year.
But he predicts that 70 percent of the 100,000 net payroll jobs the state adds in 2014 will be located in three metro areas: Charlotte, the Triangle and the Triad.
The number of jobs in Charlotte has grown 11.5 percent since the bottom of the recession, and the number of jobs in the Triangle has jumped 8.5 percent in the same time.
Meanwhile, jobs in the rest of the state grew by 6.4 percent.
Rural areas are still a long way from recovering from the downsizing of the textile, tobacco and furniture industries, Walden said.
And because many rural residents are not educated or tech-savvy, they don’t qualify for the “data jobs” that keep coming to Raleigh and Cary, Walden said.
As a result, students from rural areas that go to big, urban universities tend to stay in those areas.
“So you get this brain drain of highly qualified students leaving rural areas,” Walden said.
Despite North Carolina’s shortcomings, it’s recovering faster than the rest of the country. But Walden expects the nation as a whole to make gains, too.
The United States will likely add 250,000 jobs per month, and the unemployment rate will likely dip to between 6 percent and 6.5 percent this year, Walden said.
Specht: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @AndySpecht