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In the 20th century Norfolk developed a role in aviation. The first development in airfields came with the First World War; there was then a massive expansion during the Second World War with the growth of the Royal Air Force and the influx of the American USAAF 8th Air Force which operated from many Norfolk Airfields. During the Second World War agriculture rapidly intensified, and has remained very intensive since with the establishment of large fields for cereal and oil seed rape growing. Norfolk's low-lying land and easily eroded cliffs, many of which are chalk and clay, make it vulnerable to the sea, the most recent major event being the North Sea flood of 1953.
The low-lying section of coast between Kelling and Lowestoft Ness is currently managed by the Environment Agency to protect the Broads from sea flooding. Management policy for the North Norfolk coastline is described in the North Norfolk Shoreline Management Plan which was published in 2006 but has yet to be accepted by the local authorities. The Shoreline Management Plan states that the stretch of coast will be protected for at least another 50 years, but that in the face of sea level rise and post-glacial lowering of land levels in the South East, there is an urgent need for further research to inform future management decisions, including the possibility that the sea defences may have to be realigned to a more sustainable position. Natural England have contributed some research into the impacts on the environment of various realignment options. The draft report of their research was leaked to the press, who created great anxiety by reporting that Natural England plan to abandon a large section of the Norfolk Broads, villages and farmland face to the sea to save the rest of the Norfolk coastline from the impact of climate change.
In 1998 Norfolk had a Gross Domestic Product of £9,319 million, making it 1.5% of England's economy and 1.25% of the United Kingdom's economy. The GDP per head was £11,825, compared to £13,635 for East Anglia, £12,845 for England and £12,438 for the United Kingdom. In 1999-2000 the county has an unemployment rate of 5.6%, compared to 5.8% for England and 6.0% for the UK.
Much of Norfolk's flat and fertile land has been drained and converted to arable land. Chief arable crops are sugar beet, wheat, barley (for brewing) and oil seed rape. Over 20% of employment in the county is in the agriculture and food industries. Agribusiness has been successful in the county, and farming is very intensive with large fields, and many formerly family-run farms have been agglomerated into large farms which are highly efficient but criticised for reducing biodiversity, employment and damaging the community[verification needed].
Well-known companies in Norfolk are Norwich Union (part of Aviva), Colman's (part of Unilever) and Bernard Matthews. The Construction Industry Training Board is based on the former airfield of RAF Bircham Newton. The BBC East region is centred on Norwich (though covers as far west as Milton Keynes).
To help local industry in Norwich, Norfolk, the local council offers a wireless service.
Norfolk has a completely comprehensive state education, with secondary school age from 11 to 16 or 18, as well as several private schools. In many rural areas, there is no nearby sixth form. Sixth form colleges are found in larger towns. There are twelve independent schools including the Gresham's School in Holt in the north of the county, and Norwich School, in Norwich. The Kings Lynn district has the largest school population. Norfolk is also home to Wymondham College, the U.K.'s largest remaining state boarding school.
The University of East Anglia is located on the outskirts of Norwich; and Norwich University College of the Arts (until November 2007, known as Norwich School of Art and Design) is situated at St. George's Street, in the city centre, and next to the River Wensum.