2021 North Carolina Economic Development Salary Survey

Ensuring your economic development organization has a competitive pay and benefits structure is critical to recruiting and retaining talented people. With 38% reporting retirement plans within the next 10 years, it’s more important than ever for economic development organizations (EDOs) to evaluate compensation structure to recruit future talent and keep the pipeline strong. This survey, along with national data, can help EDOs be confident they have the latest information about the profession.

The North Carolina Economic Development Association (NCEDA) and Creative Economic Development Consulting sponsor the salary survey in order to provide information to EDOs. As in previous years, the survey was designed to closely mirror the survey administered by the International Economic Development Council, in order to draw comparisons between state and national data. However, a few updates were made to the survey instrument that was used in 2017 and 2019, including adding a question about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The survey had 164 responses, of which 91% were practitioners. As in the previous surveys, the average respondent was the top executive working for a local government economic development organization in a jurisdiction of less than 250,000 people. The budget size of respondent agencies was $400,000 – $800,000, with fewer at the very lowest range (<$200,000) and mid-range of $800,001 – $1 million. The typical staff size of North Carolina economic development offices is smaller than the national average and remained the same in 2020 (2 to 4).

There were few changes in the demographics of survey respondents from previous years. The average age was about the same, 47.6, and there were more respondents age 29 and younger. Thirty-eight percent of respondents plan to retire in less than 10 years. Both racial and gender diversity still lag the national averages, although gender diversity improved.

Practitioners in North Carolina have a higher level of professional development training than the national average. Nearly all respondents, 91%, have had formal economic development training, with 84% attending the Basic Economic Development Course. Twenty-two percent of respondents are Certified Economic Developers. Eighty-nine percent have a Bachelor’s degree, and 39% have Master’s degrees. The average respondent has been working in the industry for 14 years (same as 2017 and 2019), and in their present position for 6.3 years, also unchanged from 2017 and 2019.

The 2020 average salary of a North Carolina economic developer is $91,902, up from $86,223 in 2019.

Title2020 NC Average Salary
CEO/Executive/Head of Organization$113,241
VP/Division Manager/Department Head/Deputy/Assistant Director/CFO/Controller$91,962
Program Manager Business Retention Manager/Business Recruitment Manager/Marketing Manager/Research Director or Manager/Policy Government Affairs Manager$67,919
Other Administrative/Support Staff/Consultant$45,892
Entry Level ED Staff$40,650

There is opportunity for additional cash compensation for 43% of respondents. This is lower than in 2019, which could indicate fewer EDOs met performance goals due to the pandemic. Of those receiving additional cash compensation, the average received was $6,036 and the median was $4,250. Most economic developers do not have an employment contract in place.

For the year ending December 2020, 63% of respondents reported receiving an increase in base pay, a significant drop from the 71% in 2019. This may be due to the uncertainty of local government revenues caused by the pandemic. The average increase was 4.6%, slightly down from 5% in 2019. Nearly all agencies offer economic developers medical insurance and a retirement plan. A large majority of respondents are offered “paid time off,” with an average amount of 3.5 weeks. Non-cash benefits are diverse and include technology, such as cell phones and laptop computers, as well as mileage reimbursement and use of a company credit card.

As the economy recovers, there will be more competition for economic development professionals in the marketplace. The reported retirement rate at 38% over the next ten years will heighten the competition. The profession, led in our state by NCEDA, should continue efforts to raise awareness of economic development as a career.  

You may obtain a copy of the 2021 North Carolina Economic Development Salary Survey on the Creative EDC website . The report has more in depth information and comparisons to national data.

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