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Triad

Only the Big Easy is hit harder 

It’s no secret that the Greensboro-High Point metro area — which covers Guilford, Randolph and Rockingham counties — has struggled, but just how bad has the job market been? From the end of 1999 through 2009, only one major metro area in the Southeast lost a higher percentage of its jobs — and that place was hit by a catastrophic hurricane that shrank its population 10% during the period.

A recent report by The Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C., think tank, found a 5.6% decline in Greensboro-High Point’s job base, 11th worst among the nation’s 100 largest metros. In the 16-state Southeastern U.S., only New Orleans — where employment shrank 15.6%, due largely to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 — fared worse. (Greensboro-High Point’s neighbor, the Winston-Salem metro, isn’t among the nation’s 100 largest.) “Most of the cities that ranked low either bore the brunt of the housing bust or were involved in auto or auto-parts manufacturing,” says Howard Wial, a Brookings fellow and co-author of the study. “In Greensboro, the reasons were more idiosyncratic.”

The local economy’s reliance on traditional industries such as textiles, apparel and furniture manufacturing made it especially vulnerable to job losses as manufacturers sought lower costs abroad. The result was an 11.4% unemployment rate in the fourth quarter of last year — compared with 9.7% nationwide — and a 4.6% drop in gross metropolitan product from its peak in the fourth quarter of 2006. Only 12 of the 100 largest metros saw a bigger drop from their peak.

The long-term decline of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. has slowed recovery from recent recessions, says Andrew Brod, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at UNC Greensboro. And because the latest recession was triggered by a global financial crisis, manufacturers weren’t able to rely on the export market to bring them back from the brink, as they’ve done in the past. The key to recovery, Brod says, will be Greensboro’s ability to attract other industries. “It needs to figure out what it will be in the new economy.”

The region has been courting businesses in aviation, life sciences, advanced manufacturing, nanotechnology, transportation and logistics, and business and financial services, says Dan Lynch, president of the Greensboro Economic Development Alliance. And it has had some success in each category. “We’re certainly not hanging our heads and wringing our hands, saying, ‘Woe is me.’”

But even with modest growth — gross metropolitan product grew 2% in the fourth quarter — it might take the Greensboro metro at least five years to recover all the jobs lost since the recession began in 2007, Wial says. “It will happen, but it could be a long time in coming.”

Bright future

Greensboro-based RF Micro Devices Inc., best known as a maker of semi-conductors for cell phones, says it has developed a way to efficiently manufacture cells that convert sunlight into energy. Because they can be made with the same equipment and materials RF Micro uses for its bread-and-butter product, the photovoltaic cells are considered a natural leap. If successful, they would provide a hedge against fluctuations in the wireless market. Executives would not say how much was being spent nor how many jobs might be created. The company developed the cells in collaboration with the federal National Renewable Energy Laboratory and hopes to begin high-volume production in 2012.

 

WINSTON-SALEMDell pushed back the closing date of its factory in Forsyth County for the third time. The Round Rock, Texas-based computer maker will keep the plant open through October because of increased orders for desktop models. About 500 work at the plant, including about 100 temporary and contract workers.

WINSTON-SALEMBB&T’s top five executives got their first bonuses since 2006, though net income fell 43% to $729 million last year. The company’s compensation committee cited the bank’s early exit from the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program, successful integration of a recent bank purchase and making a profit all four quarters of a tough year. Payments ranged from $99,365 to the $373,691 that CEO and Chairman Kelly King received.

WHITSETTPrecor, part of Finnish sporting goods maker Amer Sports, opened a $26 million factory. The Woodinville, Wash.-based maker of exercise equipment employs about 75 locally but hopes to increase that to 100 by mid-year.

GREENSBORO — The North Carolina Credit Union League plans to move to Raleigh in the next year to be closer to state lawmakers and regulators. The trade association for the state’s nearly 100 credit unions employs about 20 and has been in the Gate City since 1934.

BURLINGTON — Seven local businessmen agreed to buy Burlington Square Mall from Chicago-based LaSalle Bank and will resurrect one of the mall’s former names. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed. The new owners plan to change the name of the 500,000-square-foot shopping center to Holly Hill Mall — what it was called when it was built in the late 1960s — and Business Center.

WINSTON-SALEM — A Vermont judge says R.J. Reynolds Tobacco made misleading claims that its Eclipse smokeless cigarette posed lower health risks than regular cigarettes. He says the company’s marketing violated the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement that governs cigarette advertising. The company is considering an appeal.

GREENSBOROGreensboro College named Lawrence Czarda, 58, as president. Czarda, vice president for administration at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., hopes to boost enrollment at the private school from 1,200 to 1,500 within a few years. He will make $198,000 a year and succeeds Craven Williams, who retired in July at age 69.

The adjacent Rockingham County towns of Madison and Mayodan are exploring a merger to save operating costs. They already share a recreation department and plan to build a shared library branch. Each has more than 2,000 residents and annual budgets of about $5.5 million.

MOUNT AIRY — Woodbridge, N.J.-based Harvest Time Bread plans to add 38 jobs at its bakery within three years. That will increase the workforce to about 125.