North Carolina had a predominantly industrial economy for most of the 20th century. Today, the state remains the nation's largest manufacturer of textiles, cigarettes, and furniture. The textile industry is the largest manufacturing sector, followed by tobacco manufacturers, chemicals and allied products, industrial machinery, food products, electronics/electrical equipment, furniture and fixtures, and rubber and plastics products. The total value of shipments by manufacturers exceeded $163 billion in 1997.
The industrial regions of North Carolina spread out from the piedmont cities; roughly speaking, each movement outward represents a step down in the predominant level of skills and wages and a step closer to the primary processing of raw materials. Burlington Industries (the world's largest textile company), Blue Bell Inc., Cannon Mills, and Cone Mills are major US textile corporations based in Greensboro; Fieldcrest Mills has its headquarters in Eden. The furniture industry is centered in the High Point-Thomasville and Hickory-Statesville areas. Charlotte's factories produce electrical appliances, textiles, and chemicals and machinery for the textile industry. Broad rural areas of the piedmont also have many industrial installations: Gaston County near Charlotte contains the largest concentration of textile factories in the US.
In 1997, North Carolina was the headquarters for seven Fortune 500 companies: Nationsbank Corp., First Union Corp., Lowe's, Duke Power, Wachovia Corp., Nucor, and Carolina Power and Light.
Earnings of persons employed in North Carolina increased from $130.5 billion in 1997 to $138.5 billion in 1998, an increase of 6.2%. The largest industries in 1998 were services, 22.2% of earnings; nondurable goods manufacturing, 12.2%; and durable goods manufacturing, 11.6%. Of the industries that accounted for at least 5% of earnings in 1998, the slowest growing from 1997 to 1998 was nondurable goods manufacturing, which increased 2.9%; the fastest was construction (6.7% of earnings in 1998), which increased 11.1%.