Compromise state incentives bill pending, officials say

Sen. Phil Berger (R), President Pro Tempore of the N.C. Senate speaks to the Senate during the opening of the 2015 session of the N.C. General Assembly in Raleigh in January.
Sen. Phil Berger (R), President Pro Tempore of the N.C. Senate speaks to the Senate during the opening of the 2015 session of the N.C. General Assembly in Raleigh in January.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said Thursday that he expects economic development officials will be happy with the details on the state’s overhauled incentives program to lure businesses, which legislators are expected to release next week.

An earlier version of the state Senate’s proposal provoked outcry from economic developers in urban counties such as Mecklenburg, because it would have capped the amount such counties would receive and direct more incentives to rural counties. The state House and Gov. Pat McCrory both opposed the plan.

Speaking at the Charlotte Chamber’s fall retreat, Berger said leaders of both houses have reached a compromise that incorporates elements of the House and Senate plans. But he said the bill won’t be released yet, as the House and Senate wrap up the state’s budget this week.

“Once it’s released for public consumption, the folks in this room will like what they see,” said Berger, a Republican.

The state’s main tax rebate program, the Jobs Development Investment Grant, pays companies back a portion of their taxes in exchange for moving to or expanding in North Carolina. It’s a tool used to recruit businesses, for which the state often faces fierce competition from other states – especially South Carolina.

The original Senate proposal, backed by Berger, would have specifically limited how much incentives money could go to Mecklenburg, Wake and Durham counties. In effect, it would have allowed those counties to no more than about half of the state’s incentives money under today’s population figures.

The House’s plan would have increased the existing program by $22.5 million a year, doubling the amount of incentives money available.

The chambers have been at odds since March, when the competing proposals were unveiled. Since then, the state’s job developers said uncertainty about incentives is hampering efforts to lure big companies.

“It’s had a huge impact when we look at projects we missed,” said Ned Curran, Bissell chief executive and incoming Chamber chairman.

Alley to be 2018 chair

At the Chamber retreat, business leaders also discussed the need to move to a more regional planning model. The Chamber and the Charlotte Regional Partnership have recently signed a memorandum of understanding that is meant to help them work together more closely and coordinate fund raising and business development opportunities.

The Chamber’s theme for the coming year is “Believe. Do. Charlotte.”

The Chamber also announced Thursday that Kendall Alley, an executive vice president with Wells Fargo, has been named as second vice chair of the business advocacy group. That means he will serve as chairman of the Chamber in 2018.

A Salisbury native and longtime banker, Alley said he’s looking forward to helping guide the city’s growth.

“There is dramatic growth going on in Charlotte and the Chamber is right in the middle of that,” said Alley, in a statement. “There is an incredible level of volunteerism that takes place here. To have the opportunity to help continue that and to drive the city forward through the Chamber’s efforts is the main reason I want to be part of it.”

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo