Editorials

Don’t shield jobs info from public

The Observer editorial board

Charlotte unsuccessfully sought a Mercedes-Benz  headquarters.
Charlotte unsuccessfully sought a Mercedes-Benz headquarters. AP

You don’t need to see the details. Just trust us, we know what we’re doing.

That’s perhaps the last thing you want to hear from a public official when tens of millions of your tax dollars are at stake. But that’s essentially what the state’s leaders are telling us when it comes to the new public-private economic development agency handling our job recruiting.

As the Observer reported Monday, the new agency, the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, allows the public far less insight into the reasons why we lose jobs projects to other states.

We’ll still get the details on the tax breaks and other incentives involved when we win. But when we lose, we will now find a thicker veil of secrecy separating us from whatever lessons stand to be learned.

As explained by John Lassiter, chairman of the partnership’s board, the thinking is that the state’s recruiters can better shield their tactical secrets from rivals. And publicity-shy corporate executives can communicate more freely with state officials if they know they aren’t leaving a trail of documents – and corporate strategy clues for the competition – in a state they may or may not choose.

The state’s economic development record discredits that argument, however.

Before the recession, North Carolina spent years atop lists ranking the best job-recruitment states – without adding secrecy around projects it failed to win.

(Which made it a little odd recently to see Gov. Pat McCrory’s office bragging that the state had achieved a No. 4 ranking on one new list).

The added secrecy represents yet another example of how the public-private agency is a “fix” for a problem that didn’t exist. Need more proof? S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley and her state’s commerce department do just fine without a public-private agency, though they do keep a fairly tight lid on emails and other correspondence generated during recruitment negotiations.

We’ve swung and missed on a range of major jobs projects in the past year or so, from Toyota to Mercedes-Benz to Boeing. McCrory, feeling the heat from Haley and another aggressive governors, has been pressing the N.C. legislature for more job-recruitment spending.

As the old saying goes, you can learn as much from defeat as victory. With huge sums of public money at stake in the job-recruiting wars, those kinds of lessons should be shared with N.C. taxpayers.

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