EVERYBODY'S BUSINESS: Corn could become scarce soon, N.C. employment remains flat

Mar. 31, 2013 @ 04:59 AM

According to an analysis conducted by Bloomberg News, U.S. corn supplies are shrinking faster than they have in four decades thanks to a combination the worst drought since the 1930s and increased demand from ethanol producers.

The price of corn might seem like a niche issue, but it has far-reaching effects. In addition to being bad news for meat and dairy farmers, it's also bad news for people who work in processing plants — like Tyson or Pilgrims' Pride in Sanford — as well as consumers who might start seeing prices rise at the store.

U.S. law requires energy companies to produce more ethanol this year than last year, and credits for refineries that blend ethanol with gasoline are also increasing, leading experts to tell Bloomberg that supply will probably be fine (though expensive) through June, but that corn could be hard to find in July and August. At least two commodity firms estimated corn would reach a near-record-high $8.25 per bushel this summer.

Earlier this month, officials from House of Raeford Farms slammed the government's ethanol mandates after eliminating close to 1,000 jobs in a turkey processing plant in Raeford, blaming high costs brought on by those mandates. The rising cost of feed was also brought up when Omtron closed a chicken plant in Siler City in 2011, laying off 680 employees. Many Chatham County residents have called for the Siler City plant to reopen, but it's clear that as long as the price of corn continues its meteoric rise, many companies are wary of such an investment.

In other news...

Business fluctuations: In the last week, eight corporations were formed in Lee County, and none were dissolved or withdrawn.

A mixed bag on employment: The unemployment rate in North Carolina was 9.4 percent in February. That rate is slightly lower than it was in February 2012, when it was 9.5 percent. However, the national unemployment rate dropped from 8.3 to 7.7 percent in the same period. According to the N.C. Justice Center, which advocates for low-income people, hospitality is the state's fastest-growing industry, but it reportedly has an average wage of $8.05/hour. The state average is $20.15/hour. General services, with an average wage of $19.65, is also growing. The manufacturing sector — which many local jobs fall into — pays an above-average $22.93/hour to the average employee, but employment levels have remained stagnant.

Local man moving on up: Abraham Cox has been named as regional president of the BB&T Corporation's North Region based out of Morganton, W.Va. A native of Sanford, Cox, 36, joined BB&T in 2000 through its Leadership Development Program.

A chance for glory: About 30 teams of barbeque experts will have the chance to face off at the N.C. Whole Hog Barbecue State Championship in Raleigh this September as part of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s annual World of Bluegrass week. In order to get a spot in the final, teams must do well at one of 15 or 20 events around the state between April and September. None are in Lee County, but more information can be found at www.ncpork.org.

Have business news? Email Will Doran at wdoran@sanfordherald.com or call him at (919) 718-1217.