Commentary, NC Budget and Tax Center, Raising the Bar 2015

Raising the bar: NC must invest in Main Street businesses to promote community economic development

Editor’s note: This is the latest installment in “Raising the Bar” — a new series of essays and blog posts authored by North Carolina nonprofit leaders highlighting ways in which North Carolina public investments are falling short and where and how they can be improved.  

The past few years have brought a major shift in how the state of North Carolina approaches economic development. Legislation passed in 2014 eliminated the state’s seven economic development partnerships, and replaced them with eight Partnership for Prosperity Zones. These zones were placed under the umbrella of a new public-private partnership to manage North Carolina’s economic development efforts.

The establishment of the public-private partnership signaled a new direction for economic development in North Carolina, one that is focused more on the attraction and retention of high-growth, innovation-focused, large employers and not as much on the businesses on Main Street.

This new direction was reinforced in the state budget. The Fiscal Year 2014 budget enacted major funding cuts to nonprofit community economic development organizations, organizations which play a critical role in ensuring that jobs and investment reach our most under-served and distressed communities. This is particularly true as the state’s economic development structure focuses more on business attraction and retention, and less on local economic development. The Support Center was included in these budget cuts, along with the Institute for Minority Economic Development, the Association of Community Development Corporations, the Indian Economic Development Initiative, the Community Development Initiative, and others.

Gov. Pat McCrory’s 2015-2017 biennium budget continues down this path. The Governor’s job creation proposals speak much about entrepreneurship and investing in innovation. He proposes $15 million annually for the Venture Multiplier Fund, to increase investment in early-stage companies, and $2.5 million annually for the Rallying Investors and Skilled Entrepreneurs program, which would recruit investors and entrepreneurs to the state. A $5 million appropriation for the One North Carolina Small Business Program would also invest in high-growth, high-tech small businesses.

All of these programs, though they are geared toward entrepreneurs and small businesses, do not address the capital or training needs of “Main Street” businesses—the local small businesses that are the backbone of economies in communities across the state. Read more

NC Budget and Tax Center, Raising the Bar 2015

Raising the Bar: North Carolina needs a budget debate focused on building an economy that works for all

North Carolina can have quality schools, accessible health care, a sound transportation system, affordable housing and safe neighborhoods—all of the things necessary to strengthen the economy and grow a strong middle class. We just have to make the choice to build this infrastructure of opportunity.

In recent years, state policymakers have undercut the effectiveness of our public systems, instead enacting tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthiest taxpayers and profitable corporations. Because of those tax cuts and a slow economic recovery, the state doesn’t have enough revenue to adequately support the systems that fuel economic growth.

That’s not how it worked in the past. Coming out of previous recessions, North Carolina quickly reversed the cuts made when times were tight and increased investments in roads, schools, and universities that paved the way for an economy that outpaced many other Southern states.

North Carolina has never looked to other states to show us the way forward. On the contrary, other states in the south have always looked to us for leadership and innovative ideas. Our state created a progressive personal income tax in 1921 that made us a leader in state funding for public education at one the time and further established our reputation as the Great Roads State. We created a community college system that was the envy of the nation. And, more recently, our innovative early childhood programs were held up as a national model.

Today, instead of making investments, policymakers are using the tax system and the state budget to bulldoze the infrastructure of opportunity.

As state leaders create the Fiscal Year 2015-2017 biennial budget, we can encourage them to make investments that are proven to grow our economy and promote financial stability for families and the state government. But we have to acknowledge that they can’t make those investments without the necessary revenue.

Over the next few weeks, experts on a range of issues that support stronger communities, families and economies in North Carolina will share their perspectives here. They will speak not just on where state investments have been and what has been lost in recent years, but they will also share proposed solutions for what North Carolina’s leaders could do to achieve the better outcomes we all seek.

We hope that our leaders will consider how we raise the bar in the budget debate not how we race our neighbors to the bottom.

Editor’s note: This is an installment in “Raising the Bar” — a new series of essays and blog posts authored by North Carolina nonprofit leaders highlighting ways in which North Carolina public investments are falling short and where and how they can be improved.