Business recruiting picking up, economic development chair says

T.Ortega Gaines-ogaines@charlott

Two months after the state legislature passed a bill to replenish a key business incentives program, the chairman of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina said Thursday more businesses are interested in coming to the state.

The renewal of the incentives program followed a months-long standoff in the legislature, as the state House and Senate disagreed over how much to spend on incentives. Although incentives are often controversial – seen as a handout to business or as government unfairly picking winners – states aggressively use incentives to compete for corporate relocations.

While North Carolina’s incentives program was in limbo, economic developers complained that interested companies were looking elsewhere, said John Lassiter, chairman of the public-private partnership, speaking at Charlotte Center City Partners’ quarterly board meeting.

Despite a pledge by lawmakers to move quickly, “our tool bag was kind of disabled for most of 2015,” Lassiter said. “That promise languished, and languished, and languished.”

Now, with an incentives program that includes special provisions to give more money to an especially large project, or “whale,” Lassiter said the market has noticed.

“The number of live projects has accelerated over the last two months,” said Lassiter. He didn’t give any examples of companies that are looking – such names are typically closely guarded secrets.

The interest coincides with a boomlet of speculative office space uptown, where 3.4 million square feet of new office space is underway or proposed. New office towers are also underway in SouthPark, Ballantyne and Midtown.

“We’re excited to have new inventory,” said Center City Partners CEO Michael Smith. “We’ve got to sell it to grow jobs.”

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo