It's something every business owner wishes for: foresight into the economy for the upcoming year. Industry experts from across the state gathered to discuss what to expect in the future, most with a positive outlook.

Participants in the round table

Freddy H. Robinson, partner, Bernard Robinson & Co.

Scott Saylor, president, North Carolina Railroad

Thomas A. Stith III, director, N.C. District of the U.S. Small Business Administration

Dean McRae C. Banks, dean of the Bryan School of Business and Economics, UNC Greensboro

Adam Currie, regional president, First Bank

Stan Kelly, CEO and president, Piedmont Triad Partnership

The round table was hosted by the Bryan School of Business and Economics at UNC Greensboro and sponsored by the Bryan School of Business and Economics, Bernard Robinson & Co., North Carolina Railroad and First Bank. The transcript was edited for brevity and clarity.


ROBINSON I think we have a very robust economy right now, but the economy in North Carolina is very much like the topography: We have mountains, the Piedmont, the plains, and the ocean. The economy is not robust or vibrant across the state. There are areas that are doing extremely well, and there are areas that are not doing quite so well.

The main theme I hear consistently across the state is labor. That seems to be the biggest concern of businesses, and I'm talking about for-profit businesses, and in most cases, closely held family businesses. That's who I work with, and the big concern with them is labor. And not just unskilled labor, but all levels of labor seem to be a problem across the state.

STITH We feel very strong about the economy this year. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 has provided an environment for small businesses to thrive, reducing their tax liability, providing incentives--such as opportunity zones to invest in areas that typically haven't received private investment--and reducing tax rates for C corporations to 21 % as opposed to 35%.

When you look at small businesses in North Carolina, you're talking about more than 900,000 businesses. Small businesses employ 44% of our working population. That's about 1.7 million people.

We want to have large industries in our state, but it's the small business owners that are the backbone of our economy, and they're thriving now.

The indicator that we look at is our loan volume. Last year, more than $600 million worth of loans were guaranteed by the Small Business Administration through good partners, like First Bank.

Although it was a robust amount of loans, we actually saw a reduction. From an Indicator point of view, that's positive for SBA because that tells us the traditional lending community doesn't see much need for that guaranteed loan through SBA. We see a vibrant small-business community in North Carolina that is growing and employing our citizens, but we also see the traditional lending community not necessarily having to turn to SBA for a guarantee.

BANKS One of the...

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