O-Pinion

For N.C. lawmakers, ideology trumped Volvo jobs

Gov. Nikki Haley announces that Volvo Car Corp. will build its first plant in North America in Berkeley County. South Carolina beat out four other states for the $500 million plant that will employ 4,500 workers.
Gov. Nikki Haley announces that Volvo Car Corp. will build its first plant in North America in Berkeley County. South Carolina beat out four other states for the $500 million plant that will employ 4,500 workers. AP

Gov. Pat McCrory likes to joke about how hard the two Carolinas fight over jobs, and how S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley once quipped, “May the best woman win.”

He might want to drop that joke from his stump speeches. Haley’s whipping the pants off of him when it comes to luring major auto companies.

In truth, it’s not a fair fight. She’s got a legislature that looks to be marching lockstep behind her when it comes to luring major economic development projects. South Carolina is throwing more than $200 million in incentives at Volvo; the conservative S.C. legislature barely batted an eye.

McCrory told legislators in February that he needed more economic development tools “in a matter of weeks, not months.” But the issue still sits unresolved.

Unlike N.C. legislators, S.C. lawmakers have witnessed how major auto plant projects unfold. South Carolina invested $150 million two decades ago to lure BMW to the Spartanburg area. Studies say that investment has produced an estimated 23,000 jobs around the state, including companies that supply the plant, and almost $1.8 billion in annual payroll.

That’s strong math. But in North Carolina, where we have no recent history with major auto plants, conservatives in the N.C. Senate aren’t convinced it’s worth it.

While the House is largely backing McCrory’s call for beefing up incentives, leaders in the Senate disdain incentives as using government money to “pick winners and losers” among corporations. They’d rather lower taxes on all corporations, which they’ve already started doing via the 2013 tax reform law.

But Volvo wasn’t swayed.

Today’s corporate recruiting process is a pretty straightforward, if somewhat unseemly, game. The big companies put their plants up for auction. Job-hungry states scramble to outbid each other.

If North Carolina decides it’s not going to play the game, auto company executives won’t lose any sleep over it.

But folks in Edgecombe County will. Word is that two delegations of auto executives visited the Kingsboro, N.C., megasite for which McCrory and state officials have been dying to lure an auto plant.

The unemployment rate in that county is 9.7 percent, nearly double the statewide rate of 5.3 percent. Just 10 percent of all Edgecombe County residents above 25 years old hold a bachelor’s degree. A plant like Volvo’s might be as close as many residents there will ever come to a middle-class paycheck.

Despite all that, despite McCrory’s pleading and cajoling, N.C. lawmakers essentially took a pass on Volvo. The voters of Edgecombe County, and of eastern North Carolina, should remember that come election time. Eric Frazier

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