The latest alleged crisis in Commerce raises more questions

The latest alleged crisis in Commerce raises more questions

- in Fitzsimon File

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Governor Pat McCrory told an audience of business leaders this week that he has been hamstrung in recruiting businesses to the state because he didn’t know what incentives he could offer them.

McCrory wants the General Assembly to fix that soon and called it the “No. 1 priority in the first two weeks of the legislative session,” and specifically mentioned the need for a “JDIG bill,” presumably calling for replenishing the money in the state’s Job Development Investment Grant program.

Sounds like a crisis—and it is not the first time.

Former Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker told the N.C. Economic Development Board in August that the JDIG grant money would run out by October if something wasn’t done and that 30 projects with more than 10,000 jobs were at risk.

Decker’s remarks came after the General Assembly session adjourned without passing an economic development bill sought by the McCrory Administration and Decker was explicit about the need for a special session to adopt one and said the crisis simply could not wait until 2015.

But McCrory declined to call the session, releasing a video statement saying ”there was no agreement in place,” which means he couldn’t convince the legislative majority of his own political party to support replenishing the state’s business incentive program he believed was vital in attracting jobs to the state.

No word on what happened to the 10,000 jobs Decker said were in the pipeline and at risk without an immediate infusion of money into JDIG.

Then two months later Decker was at it again—and remember she worked for McCrory and spoke for the administration on economic development policy—making dire predictions about what would happen if lawmakers did not come back to Raleigh and replenish the JDIG fund.

Lawmakers didn’t come back because McCrory declined again to call them into special session. No word on the outcome of all the doomsday predictions Decker made but McCrory is still sending out press releases every week boasting about the jobs he is bringing to the state.

The repeated crises and urgent need for more incentive money comes despite the launching of McCrory’s new private economic development nonprofit funded with public dollars that was supposed to energize the state’s job recruitment efforts, though the organization changed leaders just two months after it began and has maintained close and troubling ties to a political organization that backs McCrory.

One of the board members of the nonprofit said it would be the single point of contact for corporations looking to come to North Carolina. But isn’t that what the Commerce Secretary does?

And where’s the board and the new CEO during the latest crisis that McCrory identified this week?

It’s also worth remembering that former Governor Jim Martin, who McCrory has called his mentor, once called a similar proposal to privatize Commerce an “incredibly dumb and dangerous idea.”

Some leading Republicans currently in power have reservations about the incentive game overall. Rep. Paul Stam last fall called more funding for incentives a “colossal waste of money” and said investing in infrastructure made more sense.

That’s a refreshingly logical view, especially if you consider better schools, health care, and a clean environment as infrastructure investments too, since they make the state more attractive for business executives and their employees.

But McCrory, like governors before him, seems determined to expand the state’s incentive offerings that may include a special “closing fund,” whatever that means.

No matter the outcome it would be nice to have more transparency in the whole process.  We have had enough of the dire warnings and crying wolf every few months.

If McCrory and top officials at his Department of Commerce believe there is a crisis in economic development, then explain it to the public and make the case to state lawmakers.

And in the meantime, start working on that infrastructure Stam was talking about, highways, higher education and public schools and a better quality of life. Businesses will keep coming here and you may not even have to bribe them.