The top industries and employers in the Raleigh area

Learn about the biggest industries and employers in Wake County with this guide to local business.

Raleigh, NC's skyline

Wake County has a $95.6 billion economy.

Photo by Curtis Adams

Table of Contents

More than 1.17 million people (and thousands of businesses) contribute to the Raleigh area’s $95.6 billion economy. But have you ever wondered about the City of Oaks’ heaviest hitters?

Consider this Raleigh Business 101 — your guide to our region’s five key industries and six major employers.

Note: When we say the Raleigh area, that refers to Wake County’s 12 municipalities including Apex, Cary, Fuquay-Varina, Garner, Holly Springs, Knightdale, Morrisville, Raleigh, Rolesville, Wake Forest, Wendell, and Zebulon.

A map of Wake County.

Wake County includes 12 municipalities, including Raleigh in the center.

Map via Wake County

The key industries

There are five key industries that represent 75.3% of Wake County’s economy, based on data from the Raleigh Chamber and Wake County Economic Development. We’ve listed them in order of employment numbers.

Professional and Business Services | 19.1% with 127,319 employees
Everything from accounting and law firms to banks and marketing agencies fall under this umbrella — with larger employers including Fidelity Investments and Conduent Business Services.

Trade, Transportation, and Utilities | 17.3% with 115,884 employees
Walmart, Food Lion, and Target are the largest retailers in the region — last year, retail sales topped $21.1 billion in Wake County.

Education and Health Services | 16.8% with 112,491 employees
Duke University and Duke Health Systems, the Wake County Public School System, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill take the lion’s share of this sector’s employment.

Outside of PNC Arena

PNC Arena and the Carolina Hurricanes employ ~400 people.

Photo by Carolina Hurricanes

Government | 13% with 86,691 employees
When you account for the federal, state, and local employees across Wake County, plus all the government employees within each city, it adds up. The largest public administration employer is the State of North Carolina, which employs ~24,000 people for everything from park maintenance to tax assessment.

Leisure and Hospitality | 9.1% with 60,770 employees
The millions of people that visit the area each year — and their billions in spending — have played a major role in this sector’s growth over the last decade. Luihn Food Systems (think: KFC and Taco Bell), Concord Hospitality Enterprises, and PNC Arena are some of the largest employers.

The major players

Now that we’ve established the major industries, we bet you’re curious for specific names. Wake County has more than 700,000 jobs, after all. Whether you’re job hunting (or just “casually prospecting”), here are six major employersall that employ more than 10,000 workers on average.

Duke University and Duke Health Systems
43,108 employees | Education and Health Services | Search jobs
As one of the state’s largest health systems, Duke Health operates three hospitals including Duke University Hospital, Duke Regional Hospital, and Duke Raleigh Hospital. Bonus: Duke Children’s Hospital is ranked as the No. 1 children’s hospital in NC.

A trail at Umstead State Park.

Park rangers at William B. Umstead State Park are employed by the State of NC.

Photo by @jenneunc

State of North Carolina
24,083 employees | Government | Search jobs
From the Appalachian Mountains to its sandy beaches off the Atlantic, the Tar Heel State tends to a population of more than 10 million residents. The state is hiring for both permanent and temporary positions, and offers internships for graduating students.

Wake County Public School System
17,000 employees | Education | Search jobs
From substitute teachers and bus drivers to administrative positions, there are plenty of careers that support the ~159,000 students in the county.

Walmart
16,800 employees | Retail Trade | Search jobs
The first Walmart store opened in Arkansas in 1962 — now, the brand operates ~10,500 stores around the world. Local careers range from cashiers and pharmacy techs to corporate business operations roles.

The Old Well at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Although UNC is not in Wake County, it’s one of our region’s largest employers.

Photo by RALtoday

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
12,204 employees | Education | Search jobs
Students first arrived at the nation’s first public university in 1795. Known as one of the top-ranked research universities in the country, UNC offers a high volume of positions for faculty, staff, and temporary employees.

WakeMed Health & Hospitals
10,307 | Health Services | Search jobs
Forbes magazine named WakeMed the top hospital/health system to work for in NC in 2022. The health services provider has a team of physicians, employees, administrators, and volunteers.

This information is derived from the most recent data published by the Raleigh Chamber and Wake County Economic Development.

More from RAltoday