Raleigh’s got a lot of them when it comes to the local job market, and they all look pretty good.
#1 Best City for Jobs, Glassdoor, May 2015
#2 City Creating the Most Technology Jobs in 2015, Forbes, April 2015
#2 Best City to Work for a Small Business, WalletHub, May 2015
#5 Most Pro-Business City in America, Market Watch, May 2015
However, behind each of these statistics is a face, a name, a person—one of the many people pushing this once sleepy state capital into national prominence as a thriving hub of technology, banking and higher education.
A story about jobs is a story about them. And there are a lot of “them.”
Raleigh’s population is swelling. Wake County counted its millionth person in August 2014, growing from an estimated 901,000 in 2010. Wake County is expected to double its population by 2030 to almost 2 million.
(Had never heard of Raleigh)
Twenty-four-year old Beau O’Brien sheepishly admits he had never heard of Raleigh until a Boston-based financial services company offered him a job here. He took the systems engineer job and headed south from his hometown in rural Connecticut, knowing little about the region.
He quickly fell in love with the area, taking up rifle shooting, enjoying the city’s burgeoning nightlife and reveling in the comfortable lifestyle even a recent graduate could afford in Raleigh. He rents a one-bedroom apartment in the Brier Creek area by himself, a feat almost impossible in many urban areas, he said. Indeed, Raleigh-Durham’s cost of living rates below many other Southern metros, such as Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte and Richmond, according to ACCRA Cost of Living Annual Average Data, compiled by the Council for Community and Economic Research.
Also, he likes that his field, technology, is still growing in the area. “For my field (job opportunities) are a lot bigger than what I would have found around Connecticut.”
Tech jobs have dominated the employment scene since IBM opened a large facility at Research Triangle Park in the 1960s. IBM is still one of Wake County’s biggest employers, with 10,000 employees. SAS Institute, another tech giant, employs more than 5,000.
Michael Walden, an economics professor at N.C. State University, predicts that tech jobs will remain at the forefront of Raleigh’s economy, though he sees the local industry’s specialization shifting from technology hardware to virtual, nano and biomedical technology.
Walden also envisions the continued growth of a financial services in Raleigh, something he didn’t anticipate.
“The growth of the financial sector has been a bit surprising,” he said.
But the area’s multitude of recent graduates continues to draw financial firms. Walden pointed to the MBA and economics programs at N.C. State University as well the MAC (Master of Accounting program) at the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC-Chapel Hill.
(More traffic, but more to do)
Debbi Knaus is another techie transplant, just an earlier one. The New Jerseyite moved down in the 1990s, right after college to take a job as a technical writer at IBM. She liked IBM’s bucolic campus setting and the slow pace of life in Raleigh-Durham.
Times have changed.
The population increase puts pressure on the area’s infrastructure, straining the local school system, something the single mother of school-aged children worries about. Then there’s the traffic. “The traffic is getting worse every year,” she said, noting that she thinks the toll road on western 540—put in place to help alleviate traffic—is too expensive.
But the growth has also enlivened Raleigh’s entertainment options, which Knaus appreciates. Now working as an analyst at SAS, she lives within walking distance of some of downtown Raleigh’s hottest spots—Buku, The Rockford, The Raleigh Times. The Oakwood neighborhood she calls home—in an 1894 Victorian—was still frequented by prostitutes when she moved in 15 years ago, but now, like much of downtown Raleigh, it’s decidedly more up-and-coming.
A slew of condo projects and the moves of big companies like Citrix and Red Hat to downtown in the last decade have encouraged other businesses, such as smaller start-ups, to set up shop.
(Where was this stuff in the 90s?)
HQ Raleigh, a co-working space that occupies a 15,000-square-foot refurbished warehouse in downtown’s Warehouse District, is nourishing those start-ups.
“I wish what’s going on right now was going on in 1990,” Young said on a recent weekday, inside the small office space he rents at HQ. He knew he wanted to run his business BernieSez, a website that connects clients to attorneys, downtown because of the proximity to restaurants and other attractions. He chose HQ because of the space’s collaborative nature. Young was a student at Duke University in the 1990s and remembers downtown Raleigh at that time as being dead and boring. He likes the changes that he sees and the opportunities that a vibrant downtown offers his business.
Currently, 107 companies, the majority of them tech-based, operate in HQ’s space, either renting private spaces or the building’s communal areas. HQ has been in the space since March 2014 and already has plans for a 40,000- to 50,000-square-foot expansion into a nearby building in the next 18 months, said Allyson Sutton, HQ Raleigh’s director of marketing.
HQ represents a new trend nationally and locally in employment—co-working spaces that offer start-ups and small businesses low overhead, networking opportunities and business guidance. It’s a new idea that RTP is also embracing.
(All about collaboration)
RTP put Raleigh-Durham on the economic map. When local leaders created the 7,000-acre research park straddling Wake and Durham counties in the 1950s, they shifted the struggling
area’s economy from manufacturing jobs and hardscrabble farms to a modern, intellectually-based economy. But that was the past, and Bob Geolas, president and CEO of the Research Triangle Foundation, is always gunning to keep RTP relevant. He thinks the Frontier will help do that. Now open, the Frontier is a co-working space that is the first step in the Park Center, a mixed-use development that will occupy a 100-acre parcel of land at the heart of RTP. It marks the first redevelopment in RTP’s history. Much like HQ, Frontier and Park Center will focus on creating collaboration.
“It’s always been important that research parks have collaboration. What’s changed is how people collaborate,” Geolas said.
Recently at RTP, Cisco announced plans to create 550 new jobs in North Carolina by the end of 2017. In not-so-great news, GlaxoSmithKline announced eliminating approximately 900 jobs in RTP throughout 2015.
But Walden cautioned that even numbers like that weren’t all doom and gloom.
“Economies change; businesses rise and fall,” he said.
What’s important is how an area responds to the changes, and the Raleigh area has always been good at that.
Who works where? Wake County’s Top 15 employers
Wake County Major Employers and the number of their employees.
State of North Carolina 24,083
Wake County Public School System 18,554
IBM Corporation 10,000
WakeMed Health & Hospitals 8,422
North Carolina State University 7,876
Cisco Systems, Inc. 5,500
Rex Healthcare 5,300
SAS Institute, Inc. 5,232
N.C. DHHS 3,800
Duke Energy 3,700
Wake County Government 3,692
City of Raleigh 3,673
Fidelity Investments 2,900
Wake Technical Community College 2,547
Source: Wake County Economic Development