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Lenovo to manufacture computers in N.C.

The Chinese computer-maker Lenovo is opening a new factory, but where it's expanding is as important as the fact that it's expanding at all. Lenovo is building a plant in Whitsett, N.C., a town near Greensboro where the Chinese company already has a fulfillment plant. 

One in five jobs in North Carolina is in manufacturing, and politicians were quick to tout Lenovo's expansion as proof that industry is still alive in the state.

But the type of manufacturing is changing. The area was once known for generations as a hub for tobacco, furniture and textile manufacturing, but most of those jobs are gone.

And the number of new jobs Lenovo is creating is small -- just 115 workers to build computer servers, tablets and notebooks.

North Carolina State University economist Mike Walden said this type of manufacturing relies more on technology and requires fewer people.

"This does not mean that we’re going to see the numbers of people working in manufacturing today that we had decades ago," he said. "That’s not going to happen.

Lenovo hasn’t said how much workers will be paid, but Walden says it will be more than manufacturing jobs of the last generation because the work is more highly skilled and requires more education.

While local officials are hoping the 115 jobs are just the start of a much larger expansion by Lenovo, their enthusiasm may be tempered by memories of Dell opening a big plant nearby that closed only a few years later.

About the author

Leoneda Inge is Changing Economy Reporter for North Carolina Public Radio.

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