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Commentary

Following sharp questioning of Commerce Secretary Skvarla in a Senate Finance Committee hearing Tuesday, it was readily apparent that the Senate would take a different tack on economic development than the House, which passed its own much-criticized package last month. In a surprise press conference yesterday afternoon announcing their own “jobs package” , however, Senate leaders made it abundantly clear that “different” didn’t mean “better” when it comes to growing an economy that benefits everyone in the state. While the bill does take a few positive steps forward on improving our state’s incentive programs, on balance, the bad outweighs the good and does not represent the most effective approach to economic development.

Most importantly, the proposal doubles down on tax cuts and company-specific tax incentives, instead of policies that benefit companies by adding economic value to communities. We’ve known for decades that North Carolina’s competitive edge in the global economy rests on providing companies with the skilled workforce and infrastructure they need boost to their productivity and ensure long-term profitability.

Unfortunately, the proposed changes to the Job Development Investment Grant (JDIG) program ignore these time-tested strategies for robust economic development in favor of budget-busting tax cuts and corporate incentives that have proved more expensive and less effective than advertised. In fact, 60 percent of JDIG projects have failed to live up to their promises of job creation or investment since the program began in 2002, and JDIG is out of money because the state spent more than half the available funds on a single project in Charlotte.

At a time when North Carolina needs to create at least 400,000 new jobs just to meet the needs of growing population, now is not the time to double down on ineffective economic development.

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Commentary

North Carolina needs serious policy solutions that create real jobs, but if the new economic development legislation unveiled yesterday is the route the state is going, it looks like jobless workers are going to be kept waiting awhile.

After weeks of closed-door negotiations, the House unveiled the NC Competes Act (HB 117), legislation which included a provision doubling the amount of money the state could spend on the state’s primary business incentive program, the Job Development Investment Grant and renaming it the Job Growth Reimbursement Opportunities People Program. This program provides public dollars to “incentivize” private sector firms to create jobs and increase capital investment.

Unfortunately, the program has not always delivered on its promises, and until it is fixed, it is unlikely that spending more money on it will improve its effectiveness in creating jobs.

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2015 Fiscal Year State Budget, NC Budget and Tax Center

The 2015 state budget for creating jobs and growing the economy doubles down on the wrong turn taken by the legislature on economic issues over the last year. First it was the decision to continue to last year’s ill-advised tax cuts for the wealthy instead of investing in job training and education—the real building blocks of sustainable economic growth. Then it was the decision to privatize the business recruiting activities of the Department of Commerce—despite evidence from other states these initiatives produce more scandals than jobs—and eliminate regional planning initiatives that helped small communities coordinate their economic development efforts.

And now the state budget completes this trifecta of poor choices for economic development by spending more of our state’s limited resources on programs that are both ineffective at creating jobs and are overwhelmingly targeted to the wealthiest urban areas of the state instead of the more distressed areas in rural North Carolina.

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NC Budget and Tax Center

Another new jobs report, the same old story for North Carolina’s metro areas–too many of the state’s urban centers are struggling to create jobs and meaningfully create opportunities for the unemployed. Some of the low-lights from yesterday’s June report on local area unemployment include:

  • 13 out of 14 metros saw their labor forces decline since June 2013, suggesting that too many workers are unable to find work and continue to drop out of the workforce.
  • 8 out of 14 metros saw their unemployment rates drop because the majority of unemployed workers moved out of the labor force rather into jobs. That means that the unemployment rate isn’t going down because things are getting better for workers, but rather because things are getting worse.
  • 3 metros (Fayetteville, Hickory, and Jacksonville) have fewer people going to work in June 2014 than they did last year.
  • Only 4 metros (Durham, Raleigh, Charlotte, and Wilmington) have created enough jobs to fully replace the jobs lost during the Great Recession. After five years, 10 metros have yet to fully recover from the recession.
  • For 10 metros, it will take more than a year to fully replace those lost jobs, if they create jobs at the current pace.
  • One metro, Hickory-Lenoir, will take almost a half century to fully return to pre-recession employment levels if they maintain their current pace of job creation.

All told, this is a dismal jobs reports for our state’s metro areas, far removed from recent claims about the state’s supposed economic renaissance.

Women and the Economy

Support for Paid family leave advanced in the U.S. Senate yesterday, as lawmakers heard testimony on its benefits in a key Children and Families Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill.

During the hearing—which was requested by U.S. Senator Kay Hagan—North Carolina business owners, advocates, and representatives of working families made the case for why paid family medical leave policies benefit both employees and businesses. Such programs allow workers to recover from a serious illness or care for a sick loved one or new child without risking their job or the income they need. The hearing renewed a call for a universal family and medical leave insurance program that doesn’t shoulder all the burden of cost on employers.

Currently the Family and Medical Leave Act is the only federal law designed to help working people succeed both as providers and caregivers. It leaves out 40 percent of the workforce and guarantees only unpaid leave, which millions cannot afford. Only 12 percent of U.S. workers have access to paid family leave through their employers, and less than 40 percent have personal medical leave through an employer-provided temporary disability program. This means millions of workers who develop serious health conditions, have seriously ill family members or become parents are forced to choose between providing care or having the income they need to cover basic expenses.

In North Carolina, 77 percent of mothers with children under 18 work, and 44 percent of workers have no access to paid sick days, let alone paid family medical leave. Low-income workers have it even worse off and are often given no flexibility in their work schedules at all.

Two North Carolinians testified at the hearing. Jeannine Sato is a resident of Durham, NC and member of NC MomsRising. Sato’s previous employer denied her extended leave after the birth of her first child. She said:

We are human – to pretend that people don’t get sick and that they don’t give birth just doesn’t make sense….Families should have the opportunity to care for their loved ones without the risk of losing their jobs or falling into poverty…. America needs to step up and join the rest of the industrialized world in offering paid family leave in order to be competitive and humane.

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