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Tough times down East

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Over the past five years, Eastern North Carolina has improved on several economic development fronts, including Internet access, the availability of natural gas and employment.

But it still trails the rest of the state, says a new report in North Carolina Insight, a publication of the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research in Raleigh.

Eastern North Carolina has fewer college graduates, more high school dropouts and lower per-capita income than the rest of the state, the report says.

The region also relies more on public-sector jobs, with government providing almost one in four job, compared to fewer than one in five statewide.

The region also has fewer manufacturing jobs than the state as a whole, and manufacturing jobs that do exist tend to be low-skill, low-wage jobs vulnerable to competition overseas, the report says.

Farming jobs are declining as well, and since 1974 the region has seen a 58 percent decrease in the number of farms and a 57 percent increase in the size of farms.

Three in four Eastern North Carolina workers are in the service or retail industries, which tend to provide low-paying jobs, the report says.

And while the region is home to about 116,000 military jobs, and an additional 21,000 civilian jobs, military bases are vulnerable to future cuts stemming from the federal Base Realignment and Closure Act.

Small businesses are a major driver of the region’s economy, with more than nine in 10 of its businesses employing 49 or fewer people in 2002, according to data from the N.C. Rural Development Center, the report says.

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