Prosperity Watch Issue 30, No. 2: Prosperity Zones not equally prosperous

As the Department of Commerce launches its listening tour to develop 10-year economic development goals, it is critical to remember that different parts of the state are facing dramatically different economic conditions, and as a result, many of these regions are failing to experience the benefits of a growing economy. 

This is perhaps most obvious when comparing the economic performance of the state’s eight Prosperity Zones—new administrative regions established by the Department of Commerce to help coordinate economic development activities across a number of state agencies and geographic regions.  It is clear that not all of the new Prosperity Zones in the state are doing well economically. In fact, half of the eight zones have actually lost employment from August 2007 to August 2013. For example, while the Southwest Zone—which includes the fast-growing Charlotte-Mecklenburg metro area—experienced almost 5-percent employment growth, the rural Northeastern Zone saw the number of employed persons decline over the period more than 5 percent. 


A closer look at intra-state migration patterns is needed but this cursory look suggests that rural regions are losing employment at high rates and urban areas continue to grow which raises important questions for the types of strategies that can drive improved employment in more geographically dispersed communities. 

Understanding these trends is critical to developing policies that not only create jobs and grow the economy, but do so in a way that produces broadly shared prosperity across all regions in the state. Any ten-year economic development plan must recognize this fundamental reality—prosperity that is concentrated in a handful of counties but does not penetrate communities across the state is not real prosperity at all. As a result, the new economic development plan must incorporate strategies directed at promoting prosperity in all regions of the state.
 

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