North Carolina appears to be out of the running in its latest effort to land an automobile plant, an economic development crown jewel that has eluded the state for more than two decades.
A report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter, said that Volvo has narrowed its search to two states, Georgia and South Carolina.
N.C. Commerce Secretary John Skvarla declined to comment directly on Volvo. But he said questions about the state’s incentives program, which is in legislative limbo, are hurting the state’s ability to attract companies.
“I believe the issue of certainty is important to every company,” said Skvarla, who is pushing lawmakers to approve an expanded incentives bill.
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North Carolina lawmakers are wrestling with changes to the state’s incentives program, which economic developers say would be essential to luring a car maker. The House has passed an expanded version of the program – adding money to the tax reimbursements that companies would receive for relocating to North Carolina, and extending the incentives program for longer before it needs to be renewed again. Gov. Pat McCrory favors the House bill.
The Senate’s version would lower corporate taxes and direct more incentives money to rural areas and away from Mecklenburg, Wake and Durham counties. The Senate bill also doesn’t include tax credits for jet fuel and technology data centers – two provisions of the House bill. The Senate Finance Committee was set to discuss its plan Wednesday.
Skvarla said the McCrory administration is in talks with Senate leaders, but said lawmakers will have to resolve the differences themselves. He said he hasn’t seen much activity toward that goal.
“There’s an eerie quiet out there,” Skvarla said. “Right now, there does not seem to be a plethora of activity.”
“The reality is they know what we need, they know where the House is,” Skvarla said of the Senate’s leaders. “The talks that really need to be taking place are between the House and Senate.”
North Carolina has had several brushes with automakers since Mercedes-Benz picked Alabama over a site near Mebane in 1993. In recent years, North Carolina economic developers have tried to lure the North American headquarters of both Toyota and Mercedes-Benz, which went to Texas and Georgia, respectively.
Most other states in the southeast have at least one automobile plant. States compete fiercely for such plants and typically give out huge tax break packages because they bring thousands of jobs and a large network of suppliers.
British newspaper The Financial Times reported in January that Volvo was in talks with North Carolina, among several other states, about locating a new $500 million manufacturing plant in the state. The Sweden-based automaker, which is owned by a Chinese company, has said it plans to make its decision about where to locate in the coming weeks.
Skvarla also said people shouldn’t fixate too much on the prospect of luring an automaker, and that he wants to focus on drawing a wide range of manufacturers.
“I don’t want us to all jump off a cliff because for some reason we don’t attract an automaker,” Skvarla said.