Letters to the Editor

Leslie Boney and Rick Van Sant: Going global in NC

Two recent articles offered a revealing glimpse of how globally connected North Carolina has become – and how far we still have to go. The “High on the Hog” series focused on the science, math and logistics one Eastern North Carolina company uses in breeding, feeding, chopping and shipping hogs for a lucrative international market. “Triangle businesses chip in” on Dec. 11 described the struggle in which Triangle airport and other business leaders are engaged to increase the number of our state’s international flights.

Without a doubt, our state has gone global. A recent report from the University of North Carolina system, “Global Connections,” counts some of the ways. The rest of the world is investing here: Every day, close to 200,000 North Carolinians wake up and go to work for a company owned by an international entity. We’re selling a lot to the rest of the world. The export business is big business in North Carolina, with 9,000 companies on track to export more than $30 billion in goods and services this year.

“High on the Hog” detailed the strategies used by the Quinn Sow Farm, Maxwell Farms and Smithfield Foods in getting hogs to the Tokyo market. Last year, businesses in Duplin County exported more than $197 million in goods and services – pork, poultry, cotton, wood and tobacco – to the rest of the world, showing the growing sophistication of an ag industry that supports 68,000 North Carolina jobs.

Bright people from all over the world are moving here. That our state’s economy depends increasingly on talented, hard-working people born in other countries has been well-documented, in sectors ranging from agriculture and construction to pharmaceuticals and coding. A report released by UNC-Chapel Hill and the NC Bankers Association reveals that our immigrant population, now numbering 750,000, is changing, too: Since 2010, 57 percent have arrived with some college or more extensive education.

International students bring a host of benefits to our colleges and universities. Besides the $173 million they spend in the state each year, the 9,000 international students in the UNC system help our native-born students learn how to work with people from other cultures and perspectives. These international students disproportionately major in STEM fields. Once they graduate, they are more likely to stay in North Carolina than U.S.-born nonresident students. Those who stay are twice as likely as native-born students to start businesses. And even if they return home, there’s a good chance they will remember this state when determining where they want to do business in the U.S.

Bringing in more top students and workers, finding new markets for small businesses, attracting new investments and getting more than a handful of our nation’s 3,776 daily international flights won’t just happen. The UNC system’s “Global Connections” report endorses the Center for International Understanding’s plan to work with businesses, lawmakers, nonprofits and educational entities to develop what will be the nation’s first comprehensive state internationalization strategy. Let’s get started.

Leslie Boney

Vice president for international, community and economic engagement, UNC General Administration

Rick Van Sant

Executive director, Center for International Understanding

Chapel Hill

The length limit was waived to permit a fuller response to the series.