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Davidson’s quality of life was all the incentive this job creator needed

North Carolina’s economic development leaders hope a lot more guys like Charlie Rice turn up in these parts.

He’s CEO of a growing company – a job creator who recently moved his business to North Carolina.

And he didn’t need a big incentives package to do it.

He and his partners recently bought a Wisconsin-based firm called MIG Inc. They moved it to the town of Davidson, renamed it IMPLAN Group and brought most of its 20 or so employees down to run its new headquarters.

By the end of next year, they hope to add 15 more employees. We’re talking white-collar positions – computer programmers, economists, sales and marketing folks. Just the kind of high-quality new jobs North Carolina needs to help bring down its stubbornly high unemployment rates.

But small companies come to the Charlotte region all the time. What makes Rice’s firm interesting is its line of work.

IMPLAN is a cog in the machinery of economic development. It makes a computer modeling system that government agencies, local development officials and researchers use to determine how much additional tax revenue, jobs or labor income a corporate relocation might bring.

IMPLAN officials don’t conduct studies themselves; they tend the online tool and modeling system from which the studies emerge. For instance, IMPLAN’s system powered the study consultants did for the city of Charlotte showing a total economic impact of nearly $164 million from last year’s Democratic National Convention.

So, given his insider role in the high-stakes corporate relocations game, what made Rice pick Davidson?

It wasn’t because of a fat incentives package. His firm didn’t get one. He was influenced by his own prior knowledge of North Carolina. He moved to Valdese in 1997 to run the Norwalk Furniture Co. When the furniture manufacturing industry imploded, local economic development officials there pressed the company to keep operating. They presented him with incentives plans that included data produced by IMPLAN modeling.

One thing led to another, and he wound up buying IMPLAN. No one needed to pitch him on the virtues of moving IMPLAN’s business to North Carolina. He was already impressed by the cost of living, he says, and the quality of life. And he already knew the state’s strong stable of universities could supply the talent he’ll need down the road.

He offered another reason: His firm’s knowledge of who’s doing what nationally suggested North Carolina would make a good place for an economic development firm to set up shop.

“If I were going to do a heat map, this area would be red in terms of activities and studies going on,” he said. “The state is in the (target) scope of a lot of companies that are looking at moving or expanding.”

He’s heard about the debates in Raleigh about revamping the state’s job-recruitment approach. Gov. Pat McCrory wants to create a new public-private partnership to lead a more aggressive marketing effort on behalf of the state.

That sounds good to Rice. His experience suggests to me that it’s not just the dangling of incentives deals that bring job creators to town. It’s the total package – quality of life, schools, transportation infrastructure – all the things that make an area a desirable place to live.

“This is as good an area as you’ll find on the East Coast for doing business,” Rice said of North Carolina. “All the foundational pieces are in place. Somebody just needs to tell a consistent story about what’s here.”