Lee County demographics were the topic of discussion Monday as the Sanford Area Growth Alliance hosted an “All Boards Meeting.”

The meeting included SAGA members, Chamber of Commerce representatives, Broadway council members and Mayor Donald Andrews, Sanford council members and Mayor Rebecca Salmon, and representatives of the Lee County commissioners, Chair Kirk Smith and County Manager Lisa Minter.

The purpose of this gathering was to inform those in attendance of certain statistical data concerning Lee County and surrounding counties, titled ‘Labor Shed and Industry Cluster Analysis.’

Presenting this material for the benefit of those in attendance, was Managing Partner Ted Abernathy of Economic Leadership, LLC.

The 45 minute power-point presentation by Abernathy, highlighted both good an alarming statistics about education level, work force participation and availability of work force age citizens in Lee County, net-commuter loss to other counties, lack of white collar professionals in Lee County compared to other surrounding counties, and projections of job growth and changes in types of jobs available from manufacturing to medical.

“Sanford is underrepresented in almost every white collar position.” Abernathy said during the presentation.

Statistics in this presentation stated that job positions in Wake County have grown by 60% in the past 15 years, while Lee County jobs have been relative flat, or slightly declining.

Lee County’s labor participation rate is slightly higher than that of Chatham, Moore, and Harnett Counties, with 62% participation on Lee County, and low as 58% in Moore County, considering those of all ages, including retirement age — according to U.S. Census data S2301, while the labor participation rate of just those in the 25-64 age bracket consisted of a 75% participation rate in Lee County, meaning there is a 25% unemployment rate, while Chatham and Moore Counties have a 78% participation rate of this same age demographic, while Harnett comes in last with a 73% work force participation rate. It must be taken into consideration that some spouses do not need to work and thus does not directly concern an unemployment issue at such a high number due to other factors.

While Lee County is experiencing exponential growth in labor force population age of a net gain of 12.7%, the population of the U.S. as a whole has slowed down tremendously.

In 1960 the population of the county, as a whole, grew by 1.8% and has since steadily decline, with only a 0.5% net gain in population in 2020.

As presented by Abernathy, according to Lightcast data, The educational achievement of citizens in Lee County include 41% with a high school diploma or less, 24% with some college, either currently enrolled or withdrew before completion, 14% hold an associates degree, and 21% have a bachelor’s degree or higher. These number are slightly higher than the surrounding 4 county area.

Abernathy pointed out how Lee County had a much higher number of manufacturing jobs than other nearby counties, while other counties focused on more medical, other professional white collar such as business or legal, educational, and tourism growth.

While the pandemic had impacts on both growth and loss in Lee County, these numbers could change and slightly correct themselves over time, but the data present to those in attendance on Monday showed that while production, heavy machinery, chemical processing, food processing and manufacturing jobs increased since 2020, Lee County suffered a loss in the job fields of financial services, general business services, agriculture, textiles, and automotive, just to name a few.

Abernathy noted during the presentation that the full report will not be completed for about a month, and therefore certain stats might change.