Cleveland County sits at the far western edge of the Charlotte region. The decline of the county’s traditional manufacturing base has left Cleveland with one of the region’s higher unemployment rates and a future somewhat clouded by recent economic trends. Over 40% of Cleveland’s workforce is employed in manufacturing, and as that sector of the economy has declined in recent years, Cleveland’s overall economy has been especially vulnerable.
As with other communities in the region, much of the lost manufacturing has been in the textile industry. Not only were cotton mills prevalent throughout the 20th century, but cotton production was truly “king” in Cleveland, which by mid-century had become one of North Carolina’s top cotton-producing counties. By the last quarter of the century, however, cotton production had declined dramatically, leading to a major period of diversification for the county’s agricultural sector. Although lagging the fate of cotton production by over twenty-five years, the manufacturing sector is now going through a similar period of decline. Cleveland may be in the middle of a transitional period between an old economy overly dependent on manufacturing, and a new, more diversified one that is closely tied to nearby urban areas.