It’s often said we need to know where we’ve been to know where we’re going.

This adage can certainly be applied to the economy. Old timers like me, who have been around North Carolina for decades, know the state is a different place today than it was 30 or 40 years ago. Textiles, tobacco and furniture are still here, but are a much smaller part of the economy today than they were then. We’ve changed, but to what?

Many would say the “to what” has not been good. There’s an image of low-paying service jobs replacing well-compensated factory jobs. While some of this has certainly occurred, the reality of economic change is more complicated.

A couple of years ago I wrote a book about North Carolina’s economy called North Carolina in the Connected Age. In it, I detailed the transformation of the North Carolina economy. At its peak, the state’s legacy industries — the Big Three of tobacco, textiles and furniture — accounted for almost one-fourth of all of North Carolina’s economic activity. By the start of the 21stcentury, the Big Three’s share was down to less than 8 percent.

Fortunately for our state, we both imported and home-grew new industries. We imported motor vehicle parts manufacturing from the Midwest. We first imported and then expanded the technology and pharmaceutical sectors. Food processing expanded along with the shift in agriculture from crops to livestock. And banking — headquartered in Charlotte — grew to be the state’s largest single industry through mergers and acquisitions throughout the country.