Michael Walden, Ph.D., is a William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor Emeritus at NC State University and President of Walden Economic Consulting. During his 43 years on the faculty at NC State, Walden became recognized as an expert on the state economy and public policy. He is the author of 12 books and over 300 articles and reports, and he has made 3,000 personal appearances. Walden is also a frequent contributor to the national and state media, and continues to write a biweekly newspaper column.
He has won numerous awards, including two Champion-Tuck Awards for Excellence in Broadcasting, the UNC Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Public Service, the Holladay Medal for Excellence from North Carolina State University, and the Order of the Long Leaf Pine.
- What is in your pockets?
My pockets are actually empty right now because I’m home.
- What exciting thing has happened recently for you or your organization?
My most exciting thing is I retired from NC State’s teaching faculty about a year ago. Teaching for 43 years and reaching age 70, the pandemic made a lot of people my age think about the future. How many years left do I have? How do I want to spend that time? I have, however, not stopped working, just working a different way.
I’m continuing to write. I have a book coming out next week. I’m writing a biweekly newspaper column that I started at NC State 25 years ago; that continues. I do a lot of media work. I had a lot of calls about gas prices over the last several weeks. I’m also doing consulting, mainly in the area of economic development, both with private firms as well as public-sector institutions, looking at feasibility and impact of economic projects.
- What is your favorite coffee spot?
My favorite coffee spot is our kitchen. We don’t eat out very much and especially not for breakfast.
- What keeps you up at night?
Since I’m the age I am, I remember The Cuban Missile Crisis. I remember the confrontation that the U.S. and Russia had, and the Mid-Eastern War. I read a lot about the Berlin Air Lift. All those were periods of time and incidents where there was a potential for direct shooting between the U.S. and the Russian forces. Fortunately, did not happen. Probably the one that was most dicey of those three would’ve been the Cuban Missile Crisis.
I’m viewing the Ukraine War in that way, because obviously the potential is there for Russians and Americans to confront each other. I think this is the most concern that I’ve had about international events in 40 years. It doesn’t keep me up at night, but it is on my mind.
- What is your favorite restaurant or happy hour?
In Raleigh it is Second Empire. In fact, tomorrow’s my wife’s birthday and we have a reservation of at Second Empire. And interestingly, this is our first foray out to a full-scale, high-end restaurant since the pandemic began. And curiously, the last meal we had before things shut down in the end of March of 2020 was a meal at the Second Empire. So that’s definitely the local restaurant that we most enjoy.
- What is next for you or your organization?
The tech industry has obviously been growing. It’s been the major industry that’s shaped the economy and it continues to shape the economy this century. The tech industry downsized during the pandemic, but it is fully back. In fact, the latest numbers show that employment in the tech sector right now in the state is about 15% higher than it was pre-pandemic. And that’s a bigger comeback than any other industry that’s happened.
And it looks like the pandemic, if anything, has reinforced the tech sector with things like we’re going, with remote access and remote working. Telemedicine probably is going to be around the corner for a lot of people. NC State has been doing distance-learning for 15 years. K-through-12 has had to get in on it very quickly.
The tech sector is really going to be a mover and shaker in the economy simply because that’s where a lot of the innovations are happening. People always ask me, “Well, then tell me the five new kinds of jobs that are going to be in demand down the road,” and I can’t. We don’t know because they’re going to depend upon what kind of innovations happen.
It was very, very wise for the leadership in the state and locally, 50 years ago, to make the investment to try to reshape this area as a tech sector. The first big move there was with the EPA building and setting up the Research Triangle Park and IBM came in, and the rest is history. And the area is continuing to grow, add that component to its economy. So that was a great move. The Triangle has been on the map for a while. It’s getting to be a bigger part of the map. This is a booming area. But this is a place whose notoriety in the country and the national economy, and even international economy, is going to get bigger.