Reprinted from the Charlotte Business Journal.
1. Lew Ebert, President and chief executive, North Carolina Chamber
What’s the business outlook for N.C. manufacturers?
On the state level, several key issues were passed to provide greater certainty and balance for manufacturers, including the first significant reform to the workers’ compensation system since 1994, balanced changes to our legal climate and reining in excessive regulations. A primary concern is the automatic defense-spending cuts under the Budget Control Act of 2011. North Carolina will be the 10th-most impacted state and could lose 34,200 jobs.
Are opportunities greatest domestically or for exports?
Manufacturing accounts for 94% of N.C. exports. In 2010, exports directly supported more than 75,000 jobs in our state, and there’s room to improve and create even more jobs through exports.
What manufacturing sectors are strongest?
Our textiles and furniture have suffered, but North Carolina has reinvented itself as a leader in high-tech manufacturing businesses like biotech, pharmaceuticals and aerospace.
2. Cynthia Mills, President and chief executive, Carolinas AGC
Are we seeing a recovery in commercial building?
We are hearing from our members and architects, anecdotally, that the market seems to be picking up, though it is not necessarily consistent.
What are the strongest areas of commercial construction?
Multifamily, medical construction including rest homes, education and higher education, along with energy are the areas that are seeing the greatest pickup.
What’s the current health of road and highway construction?
With the reauthorization of the federal transportation program and the continuing level of state funding provided by the General Assembly, North Carolina should have a fairly strong and stable program of construction for the next several years.
Are your members hiring or waiting for stronger signs of a recovery?
The majority are waiting and doing so in anticipation of November’s election results.
3. Wes Sturges, President and chief executive, Bank of Commerce
How healthy is small-business lending?
Most of what we are seeing is existing businesses moving from one bank to another. Standard business-expansion loans, we’re not seeing it.
What needs to happen?
Business owners want more confidence. Even small businesses got very efficient during the slowdown, so they are hesitant to expand plants and lock in a higher cost of business until they are quite certain things are going in the right direction. We had a good first quarter in 2010 and then it dropped off. Same thing in 2011. So far in 2012, we’re holding our own.
Where is your new business coming from?
Most of our business is coming from the opportunity to serve clients of other banks.
Are there any bright spots in lending?
We’ve seen some growth in medical and a couple of restaurants expanding.