A Q+A with Dr. Mike Walden, North Carolina’s go-to economist

September 19, 2018

Dr. Mike Walden is a masterful teacher, writer, and researcher, as well as a seasoned public speaker who has appeared on NBC, CBS, and PBS. His biweekly column, You Decide, is carried by more than 40 newspapers in the state. He’ll also be the keynote for our 2018 Metro Economy Outlook. Here’s a preview of what he’ll be discussing: 

What is your connection to North Carolina?

I’ve been a professor at North Carolina State for forty years, and came here in the late 70s. I’ve written two books about the transformation of the NC economy, both published by the University of North Carolina press. Some call me the go-to economist in the state. I also have a personal connection to Asheville. My niece is a lawyer in town and her husband is an assistant football coach for Asheville High. I visit about 2-3 times a year to give talks.

What opportunities do you see for the Asheville area?

I see Asheville continuing to attract people, especially with the retirement generation growing. I also think that Asheville has the ability to add to its economy, perhaps delving into new areas, so long as there’s strong leadership and planning.

What challenges do you expect?

One of the challenges is that there will be a recession within the next two or three years. Business people need to hear that and have a contingency plan. It’ll be modest, but we should be ready. There’s also the structural challenge of how technology and automation will change the job market. Our businesses and educational institutions need to be ready for job turnover.

Why is it important to approach the economy with a future mindset?

Because people need to plan. Households, government, and businesses alike. Even if we can’t predict it 100% of the time, talking about it is useful, particularly for business people, because they have to plan expansions, add-ons, hiring, and whether or not to automate labor. It’s always useful to understand what’s happening.

What are we going to dive into October 3rd?

I’m titling my presentation “The Present and Future of the Asheville Regional Economy.” I’ll highlight what’s happening nationally, then at a state level, then delve into Asheville specifically, touching on themes like Asheville’s growth and diversifying economy, potential challenges, as well as looking ahead to where we want Asheville to go.

Anything else you’d like to say before the event?

I do a lot of talks around the state, and I show up in a lot of places where the economy’s not doing well and people are scared. Asheville’s on the other end of that spectrum. They should be very optimistic about the future. With the help of strong leaders, this community can have a very bright future.

The Metro Economy Outlook is produced annually by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Coalition for Asheville-Buncombe County and is presented this year by DHG and Parsec Financial Management. Sponsors include Johnson Price Sprinkle PA, ERC Broadband, HomeTrust Bank, Samsel Architects PA, Duke Energy and Carolina Alliance Bank, and is supported by Western Carolina University.