Business

Economic developers call for Charlotte to focus on manufacturing

N.C. Commerce Secretary John Skvarla, speaking at the CPCC Global Competitiveness Summit on Wednesday, talked about North Carolina’s opportunity to bring an automobile plant to the state.
N.C. Commerce Secretary John Skvarla, speaking at the CPCC Global Competitiveness Summit on Wednesday, talked about North Carolina’s opportunity to bring an automobile plant to the state. rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

To find and keep its edge in the global marketplace, the Charlotte region should focus on attracting manufacturers and building up the base of skilled workers who can create products, economic development experts said Wednesday.

Speaking at Central Piedmont Community College’s fourth annual Global Competitiveness Summit, business leaders said the region is ascendant but needs to bolster science, technology, math and engineering education to ensure its long-term health.

“You are in pretty stiff competition,” said Jennifer McNelly, president of the Manufacturing Institute. “What keeps CEOs up at night is ‘Where am I going to find the talent?’”

Manufacturing was a major emphasis for the speakers, who said attracting such jobs to the region will create more long-term prosperity than a service economy. North Carolina is trying to lure its first automobile plant, widely seen as a top priority for the state, in large part because of the networks of suppliers that accompany such plants.

“We have a real opportunity. There are several major automobile manufacturers that are in the picture needing North American plants,” said N.C. Commerce Secretary John Skvarla. “Those folks are going to make a decision, and then we’re going to run dry for 10 years. We’ve got to land one.”

Other topics the speakers discussed included:

▪ The growing urban-rural divide in North Carolina: The state legislature is considering changes that would shift sales tax revenue from urban to rural areas, and reduce the amount of tax incentives available to lure jobs to Mecklenburg, Wake and Durham counties.

“That is a form of competition,” said Trevor Fuller, chairman of the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners. He said the state’s urban areas need to make the case for why they should continue receiving the same share of revenue they do now.

▪ Whether cities should subsidize sports arenas: Bruce Katz, director of the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, didn’t draw any applause with the assertion that local governments shouldn’t pay for sports arenas.

“We shouldn’t subsidize a stadium. We should invest in what matters,” said Katz, such as efforts to develop an area’s manufacturing base. Charlotte has subsidized the city’s sports arenas, including the Panthers’ stadium, the shared arena of the Hornets and Checkers, and the Knights’ baseball stadium, with tens of millions of dollars. Katz said he knew his view would be unpopular but insisted, “You can’t build an economy on beer and hot dogs.”

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