In 2015-02
Maybe it’s the income-tax cuts engineered by Republican lawmakers in Raleigh or the Fed’s low-interest-rate strategy or President Barack Obama’s health-insurance expansion. Whatever should get the credit, there’s no denying the job market in North Carolina is robust, with the unemployment rate at its lowest level since 2008 and economists forecasting a sixth-straight year of growth. The bullishness is reflected in Business North Carolina’s annual ranking of the 100 largest private-sector employers, which had about 763,700 people working in the state at the end of 2014, compared with 671,000 a year earlier. These companies have nearly one-fifth of the 4.3 million people working in North Carolina on their payrolls.

Eighty-six companies on the list provided numbers; we estimated the rest. Of the 20 largest, 17 also were in the top tier last year, most having added staff since. New to the top 20 were Cincinnati-based Kroger Co., which bought Matthews-based Harris Teeter Supermarkets Inc.; Fort Worth, Texas-based American Airlines Group Inc., formed from the merger with Tempe, Ariz.-based US Airways Group Inc.; and Debbie’s Staffing Services Inc., a Winston-Salem-based labor supplier. New entrants to the top 100 include Henderson-based Variety Wholesalers Inc., a discount retail chain; New York-based insurer MetLife Inc., which has relocated jobs to Charlotte and Cary; and Marathon Petroleum Corp., the Findlay, Ohio-based oil company that bought Winston-Salem-based WilcoHess service stations.

The good news on jobs should continue, with North Carolina likely to add about 110,000 net jobs each of the next two years, says Mark Vitner, a senior economist with Wells Fargo & Co. in Charlotte. Corporate relocations and expansions will drive the growth, including high-tech companies that employ only 2% of the state’s labor force but have accounted for 6% of total growth since February 2010, he noted in a December report. While the state’s tech economy is accelerating, the list of largest employers is dominated by 36 retailers and hospitality companies, while there are fewer than 20 manufacturers. But the state’s goods-producers should add about 15,000 jobs this year, a 3.2% increase that UNC Charlotte economist John Connaughton forecasts will keep the North Carolina economy growing.

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