Triad business leaders glum, survey finds

BURLINGTON — A statewide survey of business leaders found executives in the Triad are far less optimistic about the economy than their peers in the Triangle and Charlotte region.

Fifty-eight percent of Triad business people surveyed described prospects for growth as fair or poor, compared to 48 percent statewide, according to the John Locke Foundation’s Climate Change 2004 survey. Just 33 percent of Triangle executives and 41 percent of Charlotte executives had the same outlook. Triad business leaders’ outlook was as pessimistic as executives in the state’s economically lagging northeastern and western regions.

The survey is based on 286 responses from business leaders across the state, and is not scientific and hence not necessarily a true representation of what all the state’s business leaders think.

Chad Adams, director of the Locke Foundation’s Center for Local Innovation and a Lee County commissioner, was in Burlington Tuesday to present the survey results to the Alamance County chapter of Citizens for a Sound Economy, a national lobbying group in favor of limited government and lower taxes.

The Raleigh-based John Locke Foundation is a libertarian-leaning think tank.

The Locke survey results square with what UNCG economist Don Jud is seeing locally.

“We still have about a third of our manufacturing jobs in textiles, apparel and furniture,” Jud said. “We’re still bleeding there.”

While other areas of the state are creating jobs, the Triad is still losing them, Jud said. Jud doesn’t expect to see much job growth in the Triad this year.

The Triad has been hit hard by layoffs and bankruptcies among textile and furniture makers, industries that historically formed the region’s economic backbone. Many manufacturers are moving production capacity overseas or falling victim to cheaper imports.

The most recent jobless figures show the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was at 6.1 percent in January. Three years ago, in January 2001, the Triad unemployment rate was 3.8 percent.

Some local observers, however, have a more optimistic view.

“On average, just across the board, I hear more good things or positive things than negative,” said Dan Lynch, senior vice president of the Greensboro Economic Development Partnership. “They’re not jumping up and down for joy, but I think they’re (guardedly) optimistic or guardedly cautious.”

Lynch said business executives’ views of the economy are likely to vary widely depending on what industry they work in.

“If they’re talking to textile people in Greensboro and banking people in Charlotte they could get a totally different view,” he said. “RF Micro right now is feeling really good about what’s going on.”

Among its other findings, the survey says that more than two-thirds of those surveyed think the state’s colleges and universities provided a “good” rate of return for the state tax money spent on them. But only 14 percent of the business leaders said the state’s spending on business recruitment provided a good rate of return.

Executives in the west and northeast of the state registered the strongest support for targeted tax credits and business incentives, while those in the Triangle and Triad supported those programs the least.

“Businesses generally feel that bringing tax rates down is an incentive to grow their businesses,” Adams said. “There’s a lot of debate on incentives. It’s not a real clear-cut issue.”

Contact Mark Tosczak at 227-6380 or