Cover Story: Growing NC jobs

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Agribusiness is the number one money-making industry in North Carolina.  Fruits, veggies, pigs, and chickens.  When the economy crashed, agriculture didn't.  People need to eat.  All people.

That's why our state and national leaders want to increase trade with the Asian countries.

When you think about it so much of our economy starts at ground level.  What's produced on the farm, often gets processed in a factory, then trucked to the stores and by the time in reaches your table a lot of people have had a hand in it.

Agribusiness leaders say anything that benefits agriculture benefits every American and every industry in the United States.  Growing that market makes sense to a lot of people.

To most of us - they're just eggs.  But to those who want to grow America's economy - through exports - they're more than incredible and edible.

The man President Obama's tapped to make it happen U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk was in eastern Cabarrus county Thursday meeting with North Carolina farmers who are anxious to sell their poultry, pork and cattle, along with tobacco, sweet potatoes and peanuts to customers overseas.

"The more we export, the more demand there is for our products.. then the more profitable it becomes."  And the more jobs that will be created.

Tommy Porter has a 600 acre farm near Mount Pleasant.  His poultry operation (just part of what he does) in peak season can produce 19,000 eggs a day.

It's those kind of numbers that add up - making agribusiness North Carolina's number 1 industry, worth an estimated $74 billion a year.

Number two in the state is not even close.  The military is North Carolina's second-largest industry at $20 billion a year.

With that much product to sell and when 95-percent of the world's customers live outside the U.S. it only makes sense to get other countries to open up their markets to American goods.

That's the message Ambassador Kirk heard in a round-table discussion with farmers from across the state at Marvin's Fresh Farmhouse in Mount Pleasant.

Says the trade ambassador, "We believe in trade. We believe in markets. But it's not much to ask our partners do the same thing we've done. Just open up your markets. Let us play fair and let the consumer decide."

That's the problem.  Right now many countries put hefty tariffs on U.S. made goods to protect their own markets.

Two weeks ago President Obama announced plans to revive a long-stalled free trade agreement with South Korea. Colombia and Panama could come off the back burner as well.

North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler says, "This is a very important trade agreement and probably would benefit agriculture exponentially.  The health of the economy of North Carolina is what's at stake here."

And for farmers and others a way to keep their livelihood.

"There's no player too small," says Cabarrus county farmer Tommy Porter.  "Any thing benefits us and if the United States does not take advantage of it.. there's another country that's out there that will."

The South Korea Free Trade Agreement is something you'll be hearing a lot more about in the coming weeks and months.

President Obama says he hopes to have a deal in place by the time he goes there in November.

While free trade agreements have been somewhat controversial, the agreement has broad support among farm groups.

Copyright 2010 WBTV. All rights reserved.