Johnston County is economically stable but needs to change some priorities in order to become more regionally competitive.
That was the advice delivered recently by Ted Abernathy, managing partner of Economic Leadership LLC, and Chris Johnson, executive director of the Johnson County Economic Development Office. The two spoke during a luncheon in Smithfield and called on the county to draw more white-collar jobs, prepare shovel-ready sites for industry and market Johnston to other counties.
With annual population growth at 5.4 percent – the second highest in the region – and the highest percentage of young people at 27.3 percent, Johnston County should be looking at keeping its young people here while attracting developers, the two men said.
Job growth follows population growth, and Johnston County is growing, so Abernathy said the county needs to market shovel-ready sites to both spec builders and industries to attract jobs..
Johnston County towns are business-friendly but could be even more so by marketing themselves beyond their borders while simultaneously preparing infrastructure for population growth, Abernathy said. Preparing and marketing shovel-ready sites and available real-estate are keys, he added.
Job-skill sets and types of buildings are changing, and the county and its towns need to be mindful of that as they work to attract jobs, Abernathy said. For example, manufacturing and pharmaceuticals are some of the state’s most targeted industries but require unique real estate.
Also, employment is rising in traditional female jobs such as nursing and teaching, Abernathy said.
He also emphasized the need for the county to woo employers through marketing, active recruiting and partnerships with a variety of groups.
While Johnston County is strong in terms of job growth, its college graduation rate is modest at best. Though more than 83 percent of the county’s students graduate from high school, only about 20 percent go on to complete a bachelor’s degree.
One focus of the county should be retaining its younger educated citizens for the long-term, Abernathy said. The alternative is the continued surge of young people to the state’s urban centers, which could have damaging affects on the county, he said.
Abernathy said the benefit of retaining is stability. “Austere government and family budgets are really good benefits,” he said.
Johnston County residents tend to commute outside of the county for work. Much of the county’s $50,000 median income comes from jobs outside of Johnston, Abernathy said.
The county is taking steps to lure jobs, including the construction of a new airport terminal. The terminal could encourage corporate jets and executive travel, Johnson said.
Johnson emphasized the need for the county to continue leading in cutting-edge technology while cross-pollinating industries, such as biofuels and pharmaceuticals.
“Overall, the economy here is fairly stable, growing faster than your neighbors, and your office is well respected,” Abernathy said.