Size doesn't count: Though employment statewide moved up slightly, jobs in the state's 100 largest employers shrank 4.4%.

Author:Murray, Arthur O.
Position:Largest Employers - Includes ranking of top 100 for-profit state employers - Statistical Data Included - Illustration

The National Bureau of Economic Research proclaimed in November that the U.S. economy had been in a recession since March. To a lot of Tar Heels, that was a blinding glimpse of the obvious. They had the pink slips to prove it.

As of October, statewide unemployment was 5.5%, slightly higher than the national average of 5.4% and much higher than the year before, when it was 3.8%. Atop that, the number of workers at the state's 100 largest employers dipped 4.4%, according to BUSINESS NORTH CAROLINA'S annual survey.

Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores took over the top spot in BNC's ranking, increasing its number of Tar Heel workers by 8%, to 36,000. The discount retailer displaced Salisbury-based Delhaize America, holding company for the Food Lion grocery chain, which had held the top spot since 1994.

But growth like Wal-Mart's wasn't the norm, even among the biggest of the big. Total employment for the top 25 increased less than 1%. What's worse, the company that appeared to have the greatest growth, Charlotte-based Wachovia, didn't really have any. Formed by the merger of Charlotte-based First Union and Winston-Salem-based Wachovia, the new Wachovia employs 28,000. But taken together, its two predecessor banks last year employed 31,270. The difference: a 10.5% drop. Still, the financial-services industry -- banks, brokerages, real estate and insurance -- was healthy compared to many parts of the economy. The Employment Security Commission says employment statewide was up 1.2%.

Contrast that with manufacturing, down 6.2% statewide. Textile employment was down 10.8%, with the industry losing 15,000 jobs. Kannapolis-based Pillowtex laid off 2,000 workers, and Greensboro-based Burlington Industries cut 1,100. Apparel employment declined 9.7% -- 5,000 jobs. Chicago-based Sara Lee idled 2,000 at its Tar Heel plants. And furniture employment was down 8%, with 5,000 jobs gone. Here again, one company did much of the cutting. Monroe, Mich.-based La-Z-Boy laid off 3,400 Tar Heels.

High-tech companies scaled back, too. Corning, N.Y.-based Coming, which makes optical fiber and fiber-optic cable at five plants in North Carolina, idled at least 2,650 workers in October. Corning calls the move a furlough and continues to say its North Carolina employment is 7,000, the same as in BNC's 2001 survey. Brampton, Ontario-based Nortel Networks chopped Tar Heel jobs by a third, to 5,000.

Where didn't employment fall? In the service and health-care industries. Also up was government employment. About 19,000 more people, a 5% increase, worked for local governments in 2001. If there's one thing recession-proof, it's government work.

NORTH CAROLINA'S LARGEST FOR-PROFIT EMPLOYERS 2002 2001 Rank Rank Company Headquarters 1 2 Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Bentonville, Ark. 2 1 Delhaize America Inc. (1) Salisbury 3 3 Wachovia Corp. (2) Charlotte 4 4 IBM Corp. Armonk, N.Y. 5 5 Bank of America Corp. Chrarlotte 6 9 J.C. Penney Co. (3) Plano, Texas 7 6 Ruddick Corp. (4) Charlotte 8 7 Lowe's Cos. Wilkesboro 9 8 Furniture Brands St. Louis International Inc. (5) 10 10 US Airways Group Inc. Arlington, Va. 11 12 Duke Energy Corp. Charlotte 12 14 LifeStyle Furnishings High Point International Ltd...

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