Editorial: A done deal, on close vote

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 18, 2007

A majority of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners did the right thing Tuesday by OK’ing Toyota Racing Development’s request for financial incentives to build a plant here. The county has a written policy stating what incentives are available, and that’s what Toyota requested, pure and simple.

So how will Toyota officials interpret the board’s 3-2 decision? Let’s hope they recognize the “nay” votes of Commissioners Tina Hall and Jim Sides for what they were — stands against the incentive policy, not against Toyota. Hall and Sides don’t believe Rowan County needs to lure prospects with tax breaks, and they may be right. But after months of anticipation and groundwork on the Toyota deal, it was disappointing to see them inject this sour note.

Had everyone voted this way, they would have pulled the rug out from under Randy Harrell, executive director of the Rowan County Economic Development Commission. He courts industry for the county, and part of the job is explaining the incentives local government offers. A “nay” vote from all five commissioners would have rendered Harrell’s words meaningless and turned the county policy itself into a lie. That story would make its way to every site consultant that took a look at Rowan, and they’d look elsewhere.

If you don’t agree with a law, do you break it? No, you work to change the law, if you want to take the responsible route. If county commissioners don’t agree with a county policy, should they refuse to live up to it? No, they should work to change the policy, if county policies are to mean anything.

Sides says Toyota would be coming here regardless of local incentives; Rowan has the site, the highway access and the proximity to Charlotte and Concord the company wants. “I think everything was right for them,” he says. Neither side needed incentives, but since Rowan has a policy laying out incentives, he says, Toyota took the county up on the offer. “If there’s $100 laying in the road, you’re going to pick it up,” Sides says.

Yes, you are. But has Rowan County’s time really, finally come? Are we sitting in such a sure place that industrial prospects will soon be knocking down our door to bring in good jobs — choosing us over other counties despite a lack of incentives? That’s a leap of faith the majority of commissioners are not ready to take. The local economy is not robust enough to gamble with. The consequences of being wrong are much, much higher than the price of having a modest, clearly defined incentives policy — and standing behind it.

Which would you rather save — a little over $100,000 a year for five years in incentives, or a $22 million plant and the jobs that come with it?