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Noreen McDonald
Noreen McDonald

In May 2020, the North Carolina General Assembly appropriated $29 million to the NC Policy Collaboratory to support research on the pandemic, including the public health and economic impacts of COVID-19. The Collaboratory worked closely with the leadership at universities across the UNC system and at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to develop the research plan and award funding for projects.

Four Faculty Fellows from the UNC Center for Urban and Regional Studies submitted three proposals that were selected by the Collaboratory to do research on economic recovery, including manufacturing regeneration.

“Policymakers need real-time information to monitor North Carolina’s economic reopening from COVID-19,” said Noreen McDonald, professor and chair of UNC-Chapel Hill’s department of city and regional planning (DCRP). “The availability of large-scale data collected through cellphones, credit bureaus and satellite imagery gives us data to create a dashboard to monitor economic health for firms and families across North Carolina.”

McDonald and DCRP Associate Professor Nikhil Kaza lead the Monitoring North Carolina’s Economic Recovery research team with assistance from CURS Interim Director and DCRP Professor Nichola Lowe and DCRP Postdoctoral Fellow Donald Planey. The team will use the dashboard to provide decision makers with clear and concise data visualizations of economic impacts at the county and neighborhood level during 2020.

Anita Brown-Graham
Anita Brown-Graham

Faculty Fellow Anita Brown-Graham, professor at the UNC School of Government and director of the ncIMPACT initiative, leads Keys to Economic Recovery from COVID-19 in collaboration with NCGrowth at the Kenan Institute for Private Enterprise.

“Local governments are concerned about declines in revenue as a product of reduced retail, tourism, and restaurant activity, as well as an increased unemployment rate, due in part to stay-at-home orders during the height of the pandemic,” noted Brown-Graham. Her study seeks to aggregate and analyze the data of two existing databases from NC Growth and the ncIMPACT Initiative to inform communities in North Carolina about effective measures to grow their local economies despite the pandemic. The Keys to Economic Recovery from COVID-19 project is hosting a series of webinars and other virtual events through January 2021.

In Gearing Up: The Response of Manufacturing Extension to the COVID-19 Pandemic, Nichola Lowe is using comparative research of Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) Centers in all 50 U.S. states to build a database that will help North Carolina’s MEP and the NC Department of Commerce develop solutions to shore up North Carolina’s manufacturing industry.

Nichola Lowe, interim director at CURS
Nichola Lowe

Lowe notes that “as the nation’s fifth-ranked manufacturing state, North Carolina’s manufacturing industries are well-positioned to meet emergency production needs now and in response to future pandemics and natural disasters. Still, the scale of our manufacturing gains or losses will not rest entirely on the decision-making capacity or resourcefulness of individual firms. It will also depend on the type of support and coordinated assistance that manufacturing operations in our state receive from critical support institutions, like NCMEP, now and throughout the post-pandemic recovery period.”

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