Gov. Cooper: NC should keep Economic Development Partnership, spend more on schools

N.C. Governor Roy Cooper greets folks at the The 23rd Annual McCrorey YMCA MLK Holiday Breakfast, Presented by SteelFab, Monday, January 16, 2017.
N.C. Governor Roy Cooper greets folks at the The 23rd Annual McCrorey YMCA MLK Holiday Breakfast, Presented by SteelFab, Monday, January 16, 2017.

Gov. Roy Cooper on Monday appointed Charlotte attorney Frank Emory the new head of the North Carolina Economic Development Partnership, while saying the state should keep its economic development recruitment structure and spend more on schools to entice companies.

Cooper, speaking at a Charlotte Chamber meeting, said the repeal of House Bill 2 – the state’s controversial law restricting local LGBT anti-discrimination measures – is helping the state with its business recruitment efforts.

“HB2 has held us back,” said Cooper, hinting at more recruitment news without giving any details. “There are going to be some announcements coming up very soon.”

An independent nonprofit, the state created the Economic Development Partnership in 2014 to streamline the tasks of marketing North Carolina and trying to lure companies considering relocation. The N.C. Commerce Department had been in charge of those functions. The partnership, a public-private group, is set to receive $21.4 million in state money this year.

Emory, past chair of the Charlotte Chamber, will help the group move forward with recruiting, Cooper said. The chairman is an unpaid position. Chris Chung is the partnership’s executive director. Cooper said he’s not considering changing the group’s structure or attempting to return its functions to the N.C. Commerce Department.

“There has been an inordinate amount of time spent over the past few years with internal restructuring,” said Cooper, “And there’s been some confusion with companies.”

Cooper asked John Lassiter to step down as chairman of the Economic Development Partnership after Lassiter, another Charlottean, helped to dilute the governor’s influence on the group’s board. Lassiter announced his resignation last month.

Cooper said attempting to further change the group’s structure now would result in unproductive “navel-gazing.”

“I want us to be more coordinated. I think the creation of the Economic Development Partnership was rocky, and it took too long for the partnership and the Department of Commerce and the governor’s office to work together,” said Cooper.

Another reason he came to the Charlotte Chamber, Cooper said, was to drum up support for spending more on schools, from pre-K through the state’s university and community colleges. He said that should be a larger priority now than cutting corporate taxes further.

“The first question (CEOs) ask me is not what is your corporate tax rate?” said Cooper. Instead, it’s “Do you have the workforce?”

“It is more important right now than additional corporate tax cuts,” Cooper said of increasing school funding. “To have available investments to do what we need to do, we can’t do as much (tax cutting) as the Senate budget does.”

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo