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Partial privatization of the N.C. Department of Commerce took another step closer to reality yesterday when the Economic Development and Global Oversight Committee (or EDGE Committee) reported out updated enabling legislation that authorizes the establishment of a nonprofit corporation to conduct significant pieces of the state’s business development activities. Using last year’s SB 127 as a template, the new version of the bill includes important changes—some for the better, some for the worse, and some that make us go “huh?”

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Yesterday I read about the new #BrandNCProject that the Department of Commerce had launched with UNC’s business school. News of the effort immediately drew mockery from some those who don’t like the direction the state is going in in comments sections of news articles and on Twitter.

The survey asks us what words best describe our enduring core values we hold as North Carolinians. The examples include kindness, diversity, loyalty, friendliness, compassion and courage.survey screen shot

“Enduring core values are basic fundamental principles that guide our individual behavior and both determine and reflect how we think and act toward others,” the survey’s instructions state.

I earnestly tried to answer this survey as a North Carolinian who cares deeply about my state’s future and wants its brand stand out, and as someone who wanted to possibly shape this project’s development.

I tried, but I couldn’t.  That’s because I believe holding values and practicing values are two different things. Building, sustaining and practicing “enduring core values” is hard work that is never completed. It takes investment and examination.

Living a principled life is a journey, maybe even a battle. It’s about the sum of our actions.

So maybe we should step back and reflect on some different questions: How are we as North Carolinians living up to our values?  Are we on the right path to being the friendly, diverse, compassionate, fair, creative place we aspire to be? If not, how do we get there?

However important a brand might be –and I don’t dispute it is— it just feels like our leaders are again putting appearances first. And that is not an enduring core value I want for my state.

In good news on the government accountability front this week, Governor McCrory and Commerce Secretary Decker put the brakes on privatizing the state’s economic development efforts, postponing the creation of the new nonprofit development corporation until the start of the new fiscal year in July. Ostensibly, the move is intended to make sure the transition to this new public-private partnership goes as smoothly as possible, given the catastrophic mistakes and complete lack of accountability suffered by other states when trying this approach. And the legislature would like to weigh in as well, given that the authorizing bill for all this never passed last year.

So it’s worth taking advantage of this pause in the rush to privatization to ensure that the state’s economic development efforts remain both effective and accountable. Fortunately, North Carolina has a long tradition of accountability in business development, a point made in a well-timed study released this week by national economic development watchdog Good Jobs First, and this is a tradition the state should continue.

According to the report, the Tarheel State has the third best accountability system in the country in terms of monitoring and disclosing whether companies live up to their promises of job creation.

This is a tradition that the state needs to continue and extend to the activities of the new development corporation, including the private sector donors and the proposed closing fund.

 

Richard LindenmuthRemember when racing legend Richard Petty ran for North Carolina Secretary of State back in 1996? There were a lot of reasons that Petty got thrashed by Elaine Marshall, but one of the most important was Petty’s stated intention to keep running his NASCAR team while serving. It seems almost comical now, but that was actually King Richard’s absurdly tone-deaf plan.

You’d think that little incident might have taught wannabe North Carolina public officials a lesson, but apparently some folks missed the memo. Take Dick Lindenmuth (pictured above), the Raleigh businessman recently hired by State Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker to run the state’s new, soon-to-be privatized corporate recruiting efforts.

According to Mr. Lindenmuth, he intends to retain his position as a managing partner of Verto Partners even as he serves in his new full-time, publicly-funded job. This is, in a word, ridiculous.

This morning, Raleigh’s News & Observer put it this way:

“That is not acceptable. This is a new, complex job, and despite Lindenmuth’s assurances that he’ll be on top of it and not involved in the day-to-day operations of his company, there must not be any chance for a distraction or a conflict. Taxpayers need to have those who work for them accountable only to them.”

As the editorial notes, there are lots of other reasons to be very concerned about the mad rush to privatize corporate recruiting, but this one, quite fixable problem can and should be addressed ASAP.

12-3In case you missed it, the McCrory administration took yet another step in recent days to assure that the always opaque and ripe-for-corruption business of bestowing economic “incentives” (i.e. giveaways to corporations) becomes just a little bit more opaque and even more vulnerable to corrupt practices.

As many folks are already aware, McCrory and his Commerce Department Secretary, Sharon Decker, have been moving to privatize the Department’s business recruiting/incentives work for some time. The plan — not yet fully fleshed out because the General Assembly has yet to formally  sign off on the deal — is to fire a bunch of Commerce Department employees and then recreate and re-establish their functions in a publicly-funded, private nonprofit.  To make matters worse, the whole thing appears to be thoroughly infused with partisan politics as one of McCrory’s top fundraisers has been designated to serve on the board of the new nonprofit (the fundraiser, John Lassiter, finally resigned last week from his position on the renew North Carolina Foundation — a group that exists to generate pro-McCrory propaganda — after months of drum-banging Chris Fitzsimon).

The latest outrage, however, involves the hiring of the new nonprofit’s first executive director. Read More