A Tale of Two States IV: Hospitality Jobs


For our final industry profile for the series, A Tale of Two States: Job Growth and Change in North Carolina, 1990-2015, we’ll turn our attention to hospitality and leisure-sector jobs. Jobs in this sector include those in the arts, entertainment and recreation fields, in addition to accommodations (like hotels) and food services (restaurants). These service-sector positions are generally lower skilled and have lower pay than the average job. For example, the average annual pay for a hospitality/leisure job in North Carolina is $18,236 – less than half of the statewide average of $46,531.

Hospitality jobs have grown sharply in the state. Between 1990 and 2015, jobs in this sector nearly doubled – an increase of over 225,00 jobs – and now comprise 14 percent of North Carolina’s jobs (up from 9 percent in 1990). Among the ten major industry sectors tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), leisure/hospitality ranked third in terms of both growth in actual jobs and percentage-wise.

Change in private-sector employment by industry, 1990-2015


North Carolina’s Hospitality Sector

Unsurprisingly, the counties with the largest share of jobs in hospitality are located in the state’s two tourist draws: the mountains and the coast. The leading counties for hospitality jobs in 2015 include Dare (which includes most of the Outer Banks), Swain (located within Great Smoky Mountains National Park), and Perquimans (along Albemarle Sound). All of these counties have over 30 percent of their jobs within the hospitality industry.

Away from the state’s tourism hot spots, most counties have between eight and 13 percent of their workforce in the hospitality industry. Exceptions to this include Moore County – home to the Pinehurst Resort and Country Club – and Orange County, likely due to businesses catering to visitors to the UNC-Chapel Hill campus.

Hospitality Job Growth

Nearly all of North Carolina’s counties saw their number of hospitality jobs increase between 1990 and 2015. Somewhat unexpectedly, the greatest increase in hospitality jobs occurred in Cabarrus County, just northeast of Charlotte (and nowhere near the mountains or the coast). The county is home, however, to the Charlotte Motor Speedway and related attractions, in addition to a large shopping mall and waterpark resort (and, of course, terrible traffic).

Other strong gainers in hospitality jobs are in areas more traditionally associated with the hospitality industry. These include Graham County in the state’s southwestern corner (+321 percent), Brunswick County just outside of Wilmington (+261 percent) and Pamlico County along the coast (+258 percent).

In terms of raw growth numbers, Mecklenburg and Wake Counties have added the most hospitality jobs (80,396 across the two counties). However, these figures represent a relatively small proportion of the total jobs added across the state (about 35 percent). This differs from other industries – including finance and professional services – where Mecklenburg and Wake accounted for over half of the state’s job growth.

The State’s Increasing Reliance on Hospitality Jobs

As we discussed at the beginning of this post, leisure and hospitality is one of the state’s fastest-growing industries. As a result, an increasing number of jobs in the state are within this sector, as shown on the map below. Overall, the percent of North Carolina’s jobs in the hospitality sector increased by five percentage points between 1990 and 2015.


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Among the state’s 100 counties, 96 of them saw the hospitality sector either grow or remain roughly the same between 1990 and 2015. Many of the counties seeing significant expansion of the hospitality sector include areas of southwestern and southeastern North Carolina popular with tourists. Surprisingly, in Dare County, hospitality jobs decreased as a percentage of all jobs (from 34 percent of all jobs to 32 percent), though the sector still comprises nearly one-third of all jobs in the county. This decrease might actually be a positive for the county, as it indicates that its economy is diversifying beyond the tourism industry.

Looking Ahead

This post is our last look at individual industries in North Carolina (it just so happens that hospitality has the highest BLS code). Our next post – the last in this series – will classify the state’s 100 counties based on their job growth over the past 25 years. Using a statistical technique called cluster analysis, we’ll look at the similarities and differences across North Carolina’s counties, and see if any geographic patterns emerge. Cluster analysis also has the benefit of allowing us to consider job growth (and losses) across the 10 industrial codes used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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