North Carolina State Budget Director Andrew Heath visited Yadkin County last Wednesday as part of Governor Pat McCrory’s Manufacturing Week, a time set aside to salute the state’s most powerful economic engine. Heath spoke with area business leaders in Yadkinville at a Business Before Hours hosted by the Yadkin County Chamber of Commerce. He also toured the Unifi manufacturing plant while in town.
“It’s a big push to get outside of Raleigh to tell people how we’re spending their taxpayer dollars responsibly and to talk about some of the economic accomplishments that we’ve had over the past few years,” Heath said of the visit. “We’ve cut taxes tremendously, that has inspired some job growth. We’ve had 300,000 net new jobs in North Carolina in the last three years. Unemployment in the county has gone from 10.1 to 4.4 percent so that’s a pretty dramatic unemployment turnaround.”
Heath also noted expansions at B&G Foods and Unifi that have brought job growth to the county.
“We’re just trying to bring taxes down for every business, it was at 6.9 percent now it’s at 3 percent beginning Jan. 1. Just trying to do things that are going to promote job growth and economic activity,” Heath said.
NC State Rep. Lee Zachary, of Yadkinville, introduced Heath at the event with high praise.
“There’s a lot of things in Raleigh that just take some common sense, but what Drew does with the budget, it takes rocket science. I think he must be a rocket scientist,” Zachary said.
Heath spoke briefly about the size, scope and growth of the state’s economy.
“A lot of people don’t realize just how large the North Carolina economy is,” Heath said. “It’s the ninth largest in the nation and the 23rd largest in the world. So we’re like a medium-sized country, we’re just ahead of Austria and Poland coming in at about $510 billion GDP.”
Heath said that the manufacturing industry in North Carolina brings in $88 billion gross domestic product.
He noted the diversity of the state’s manufacturing industry which still includes things like textiles, furniture and tobacco as well high-tech manufacturing such as medical devices.
“The economy is doing very well in North Carolina,” Heath said. “On the broadest economic indicators, unemployment, GDP gains, all the economic indicators show we are one of the top growing, if not the fastest growing economy in the United States.”
Those in attendance asked several questions of Heath. County Chairman Kevin Austin asked about claims mentioned in a political ad that education spending was now the lowest piece of the budget in 30 years.
“You mentioned Medicaid and its portion of the state budget, with the exponential growth of Medicaid how has it been possible to meet the other needs of all the other budget pieces?” Austin asked.
Heath said that while the department of health and humans services budget is growing more quickly than other segments, when taken in isolation, there are more dollars being invested in education year over year in North Carolina.
“The dollars are there, education spending is growing. Since 2013, we have tripled textbook and digital learning funds. We have a goal to make sure that every school system in the state has broadband wifi access by 2018,” Heath said.
There were several other comments from those in attendance. Following the conclusion of the breakfast, Heath went on to tour the Unifi manufacturing plant.
Kitsey Burns Harrison may be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter and Instagram @RippleReporterK.