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North Carolina’s newly privatized economic development group may create a business advisory board with seats designated as rewards for private funders, board members said during a meeting Friday.

The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina gets most of its funding from state taxpayers, but members of an advisory board could draw its membership from its private funders, said Jim Whitehurst, the CEO of Red Hat and a member of the public-private partnership.

Jim Whitehurst, Red Hat CEO. Source: Red Hat

Jim Whitehurst, Red Hat CEO. Source: Red Hat

At Friday’s meeting, Whitehurst said the structure of the business advisory board wasn’t finalized, but he envisioned 20 members from a variety of industries and areas of the state. He said the advisory board would be designed in conjunction with the group’s fundraising plan.

Several seats on the advisory council may go to those who donate to the private arm of the partnership, Whitehurst said, in response to a reporter’s questions after the open portion of Friday’s meeting.

“There may be a few seats for people that are large contributors,” Whitehurst said.

The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina opened last October, when the state’s business recruitment, tourism and marketing functions were moved out of the state Commerce Department to the newly formed private non-profit.

Lawmakers, when they authorized the move, held the group subject to open meeting and public records laws, and members of the partnership’s board also must adhere to the state ethics law.

The general public is the biggest backer of the partnership, with more than $16 million in public dollars funding the venture.

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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

In case you missed it earlier this week, Raleigh’s News & Observer is featuring Chris Fitzsimon’s excellent column from earlier in the week under the headline “In NC, a Republican lawmaker finds room to rethink.”

In it, Chris highlights the recent comments of conservative GOP state representative Bob Setinburg who, amazingly enough, stood up in public recently and admitted that the facts he had learned while governing in Raleigh had forced him to rethink one of his hardline, ideology-based positions — this one on business incentives. Let’s hope it’s just the start. As Chris writes:

“Steinburg used to think that but he knows better now because he has been meeting with constituents, hearing from his community leaders and local businesses and people who are looking for jobs.

Their struggles are more important to him than an economic treatise by a right-wing scholar on the shelf of a Raleigh think tank. And they ought to be.  That’s why Steinburg and his colleagues in the House and Senate are in Raleigh, to represent the people in their districts.

Think of how much better off we’d all be if Steinburg’s reasoning for rethinking his view of incentives was expanded to other issues facing the General Assembly.

Imagine if Senator Bob Rucho and his fellow lawmakers spent some time with folks who are still looking for a job and who have lost their unemployment insurance that used to help keep their lights on and gas in their car. Read More

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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News

As Chris Fitzsimon reported in this morning’s “Monday numbers,” analyst Allan Freyer of the N.C. Justice Center has released a new and damning report today on North Carolina’s business incentives programs. This is from the release that accompanied the report (“Picking Losers: Why the Majority of NC’s Incentives Programs End in Failure”):

“If North Carolina continues to use incentives to pick winners and losers in economic development, the state needs to do a much better job of picking winners. More than half of all firms receiving incentive awards from the state’s Job Development Investment Grant (JDIG) program since its inception in 2002 have failed to live up to their promises of job creation, investment, or wages. These failed projects have forced the Department of Commerce to cancel those grants and even occasionally take back funds already given to these underperforming firms, according to an analysis of program reports.

Given the troubling number of failed projects, now is not the time to accept recent proposals to expand JDIG and create a new “catalyst fund” for closing new incentive deals. All told, the state has cancelled 60 percent of JDIG projects after recipient firms failed to honor their promises, with even higher rates of failed projects in the rural and most economically distressed areas of state. The disparity in performance between projects in urban and rural counties is even more striking in light of the signifi cantly lower incentive investments made in those rural areas—rural counties are seeing more project failure despite having fewer and smaller investments.

To address these problems, legislators should resist adding to the state’s incentive programs and instead focus on strengthening the performance standards that hold recipient fi rms accountable for the promises they make. Without these critical accountability measures, each one of these unsuccessful projects would have continued to receive millions in public subsidies, despite failing to create promised jobs and investment. Additionally, policy makers should improve the evaluation process for prospective JDIG projects. Currently, the cost-benefit analysis every project must undergo is clearly letting too many bad projects slip through the cracks. Future incentive grants should go to firms in targeted industries that are poised for robust growth rather than those that are in decline, and grants should be designed to bring infrastructure development and job training resources to the rural counties that most need assistance. Lastly, there is no need to create a new “closing” fund because there is already a similarly designed incentive program that governors have traditionally used to help close projects—namely, the OneNC program.”

Click here to read the entire report.