Cumberland County's income growth ranks high nationally in 2010


Driven by government paychecks, per capita income in Cumberland County grew by 4 percent in 2010, a rate that ranks near the top 20 among the nation's largest counties.

Nearly two-thirds of the $13.6 billion in Cumberland County's earnings come from government jobs, according to new data released Wednesday by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

A decade ago, before two wars helped transform the Fort Bragg region into an economic powerhouse, government employment accounted for only half of total earnings here.

Cumberland County's per capita personal income in 2010 was $42,523, up from $40,839 the year before. Among the state's 100 counties, Cumberland ranks fifth - slightly higher than Wake's $41,400, but just below Mecklenburg's $43,882.

Orange County, home to Chapel Hill, is the state's richest with $46,713.

Nationally, personal income in counties with at least 250,000 people grew 3.7 percent in 2010. The measure includes all sources of income, including employer-provided health insurance, dividends and interest and Social Security benefits.

Cumberland County ranks 21st nationally among large counties for its one-year growth in per capita income in 2010.

When looking at a two-year period - 2008 to 2010 - Cumberland's income growth was sixth highest nationally, at 4.6 percent, as most of the U.S. was emerging from the recession.

Earnings from military paychecks jumped 6.5 percent in 2010, continuing a trend over the past decade. Military earnings totaling $6.3 billion account for 46 percent of all income in Cumberland County.

Federal civilian workers also saw income growth of 6 percent in 2010. The $1.2 billion in federal employee income now surpasses, just barely, total earnings from all state and local government workers in the county.

State workers' earnings grew 3.7 percent, while local government earnings grew only 1.6 percent.

The latest data reinforce how important government paychecks are to Fayetteville's economy. About 64 percent of total earnings in the county are from local, state or federal government employment. Nationally, the public sector is only 13 percent of total earnings.

To Doug Peters, president of the Fayetteville-Cumberland County Chamber of Commerce, those figures can be troubling given federal budget cuts.

"We're at a place in our economy where our federal government is looking at costs, spending restraints, they're looking at income sources," Peters said. "We have to look at how that affects our economy long term."

The overall growing income makes Fayetteville a "tremendously competitive community," he said, "and to outsiders looking in - what I'm most concerned with - obviously, that's a signal this community is growing and not mired in stagnation, in a period frankly when most communities are shrinking."

But as an economic developer, Peters said, "we want to make sure we're diversifying this economy so we're not solely dependent on one segment of our economy to sustain us long term. It reiterates in my mind that industrial, commercial, service-sector development is absolutely crucial, because we're already starting to see defense spending cuts."

Some of Cumberland County's private sectors also saw earnings growth. In real estate and property management, which accounts for about 1 percent of all income, earnings jumped 12.2 percent in 2010. Income among construction jobs grew 3.4 percent. The retail sector gained 2.8 percent, largely through strong performance of car dealers and parts stores that account for one-fourth of the $500 million in retail paychecks.

Manufacturing earnings dropped in 2010 by 2.8 percent. Whereas that sector was responsible for 7 percent of Cumberland County's total earnings a decade ago, by 2010, manufacturing stood at 4 percent.

Peters said the data show areas to focus efforts for recruitment.

"Our hope is we will begin a process so industrial and service-sector income growth can be ratcheted up accordingly, as well," he said.

In the Cape Fear region, Moore County's per capita income in 2010 grew 2.4 percent to $38,216. Hoke County gained nearly 3 percent to $30,972. Harnett County declined less than 1 percent to $28,537. And Robeson County gained less than 1 percent to $24,599.

Per capita income in other counties:

Bladen: $28,406 (+3.3 percent)

Columbus: $28,300 (+3 percent)

Lee: $32,193 (+2.2 percent)

Sampson: $29,729 (+2.4 percent)

Scotland: $28,525 (+3 percent).