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As the ongoing budget stalemate continues in the General Assembly, the Senate offered up this morning its latest version of the “NC Competes” bill, the mis-named economic development package that will likely do very little to make North Carolina genuinely competitive for private investment and job creation in the global economy. Like previous renditions of the package, today’s proposal just doubles down on tax cuts and corporate subsidy programs that have proven time and again to be ineffective at meaningfully growing our state’s economy. But it largely goes from bad to worse in terms of the state’s discretionary incentive programs.

In general, economic development incentives are not the most effective tool to promote meaningful job creation or widely shared economic prosperity. They tend to influence only a small number of firm location decisions and frequently end up going to the urban, wealthier areas that need incentive dollars the least in order to attract investment. And in North Carolina, the Job Development Investment Grant program—the state’s flagship incentive program—has failed to live up to its promises of job creation and investment in 60 percent of its projects.

The truth is that incentives just don’t play a major role in making our state competitive for business investment. While JDIG may play a role in luring a small number of businesses to the state, the program only accounts for a vanishingly small amount of the total number of businesses, jobs, and investment that come to North Carolina. Since the end of the recession, 95% of the jobs created, 92% of the growth in the number of businesses in the state, and 99% of the state’s GDP growth have occurred *without* investment from JDIG.

So it’s unfortunate that the Senate doubles down on this ineffective approach. Here are few of the most problematic provisions:

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News

This post has been updated with reaction from SEANC, the State Employees Association of North Carolina.

The former head of North Carolina’s public-private economic development group received a $30,000 “stay” bonus in January, an enticement that only kept him at the new endeavor for three months.

Richard Lindenmuth

Richard Lindenmuth

Richard Lindenmuth, a Raleigh business executive, was selected in January 2014 to get the largely publicly-funded Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina off the ground. He had specialized in helping troubled companies but had no prior economic development experience.

The public-private partnership, which received $17.5 million in state funding last year, has been a central piece of Gov. Pat McCrory’s economic development strategy, after state lawmakers granted the McCrory administration’s request to move Commerce’s job recruitment, tourism and marketing arms out of state government. The privatization of the state’s job recruitment strategies, which proponents say allow for more aggressive and effective job recruitment, has encountered accountability issues in some states that have taken similar approaches.

Here in North Carolina, Lindenmuth was in the interim chief executive officer role for the partnership until December 2014, when McCrory administration officials announced that an experienced economic developer from Missouri, Christopher Chung, would take over the organization.

Lindenmuth would be staying on a consultant, McCrory administration officials said at the time.

Records (scroll down to view) recently obtained by N.C. Policy Watch through a public records request show that the public-private partnership also opted to pay Lindenmuth a $30,000 “stay” bonus to continue as a contractor while also receiving the same pay he got as an interim director – $10,000 a month, or $120,000 a year.

 

The stay bonus didn’t manage to keep Lindenmuth at the organization for very long.

He submitted a resignation that was effective as of March 31, less than three months after he received the $30,000 stay bonus, according to Mary Wilson, a spokeswoman for the agency.

When asked for the date when Lindenmuth submitted his resignation for the contract position, Wilson responded on Thursday that the public-private partnership had no comment.

N.C. Policy Watch requested a copy of his resignation letter, which was not immediately released.

In all, Lindenmuth received $71,770 for his three months of consulting work in 2015 – the $30,000 stay bonus, $35,538 in regular pay and $6,231 for accrued time off.

Lindenmuth declined to comment for this article, and hung up on an N.C. Policy Watch reporter who reached him by telephone this week.

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Commentary

Glowing computer screens, florescent lights, spreadsheets, graphs and charts. That’s how many of us spend our day. In the age of instant information, we rely on numbers and statistics and reports to paint pictures of the world that lies beyond the view of our office window. And we’ve gotten good at it. We understand wage and employment trends and we can measure equality and growth.

Despite the growing capacity to track and measure and capture data, we’re still failing to understand the whole picture. This is especially true when it comes to understanding North Carolina’s small and rural communities. The voices from these communities are often absent from the problem solving table. As a result, decisions are typically made on behalf of these communities based off of our imperfect understanding of what their needs and wants truly are.

Last week I enjoyed some time outside of the office and beyond the Triangle. I walked on a wooden suspension bridge that spans the Tar River, traced the Greenway on a map that connected the River to downtown, and heard about the efforts to revitalize the downtown and local economy through attracting private capital and investing public dollars.

I was in Rocky Mount. I was excited to see the kinds of ways that grassroots leaders, city officials and planners and business owners are reimagining their city and with it the region.

Over the past few years, Edgecombe and Nash counties have received national notoriety for their crime rates and poverty levels. And while these counties face very real difficulties, the negative stories do not represent the reality of the entire region or the recent efforts that are beginning to bear fruit. Residents and local leaders are beginning to take back the narrative of their community.

Residents of Nash and Edgecombe have launched an effort to take their name back and tell their own stories of their communities, one that moves beyond statistics and fear toward collaboration and hope. In 2013, a citizen group, called The Positive Image Action Group, was formed to combat those negative images and to tell the story of their hometown from their perspective. Earlier this month, the group launched the first phase of a campaign to take back the name of the twin counties.

“Twin Counties – Here’s to Success” is a marketing campaign designed to highlight the positive and promising stories of citizens and business in Edgecombe and Nash County. Read More

Commentary

There’s a new “must read” today from economist Patrick McHugh at the Budget and Tax Center. Here’s the summary:

North Carolina currently faces an important choice between two different paths for creating jobs and strengthening the economy, according to a new report from the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center. One would make the state a research and commercial hub rivaling Silicon Valley and the Boston’s Route 128 corridor and the other would emphasize low taxes and lax regulation.

Governor McCrory often emphasizes the innovation-driven strategy, calling for North Carolina to become the third “vertex of innovation” through proposals that would build on decades of public investment in education as well as partnerships between research institutions and the private sector. However, the state also continues to reduce taxes, particularly for the wealthiest North Carolinians, and ask less of large, profitable multinational corporations when it comes to paying for public services. North Carolina now faces the decision about whether to compete on price or on quality.

“The low-tax strategy is about competing on price – making the state a cheap place to do business in the short run by reducing companies’ taxes,” said Patrick McHugh, policy analyst with the Budget & Tax Center and author of the report. “The innovation-driven strategy is about enabling North Carolina workers and companies to produce quality goods that cannot be found everywhere. Cutting taxes has already scaled back precisely the kinds of investment that are needed to compete with the Bostons and Silicon Valleys of the world.”

These innovation centers have both outdone North Carolina and our neighbors to the south in the aftermath of the recession. Massachusetts had 4.1 percent more jobs in February of 2015 than it did at the end of 2007, and even California, which was slammed particularly hard by the collapse of the housing market, has managed to get employment back to 3.4 percent above the pre-recession level. Read More

Commentary

The North Carolina Senate Workforce and Economic Development Committee has scheduled a meeting for this Wednesday at noon and here is the official description of the agenda:

“Presentation from the NC Chamber and the University of Phoenix about the workforce needs of manufacturing companies around the state.”

You got that? In a state that is home to some of the best public universities and community colleges in the nation (not to mention several expert homegrown workforce and economic development experts), the North Carolina Senate will discuss the workforce needs of the state with a far right, ALEC-inspired anti-tax lobby group and a controversial for-profit, online college.

Next up (at the risk of giving these folks ideas): The Senate Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Committee discussing the future of the state’s air, land and water with lobbyists for Koch Industries.