N.C. in hunt, once again
What do large tracts of land near Rocky Mount, Siler City and Edgecombe County have in common?
They all include 1,200 acres or more and are being prepped as possible sites for a major manufacturer — megasites, as some call them.
As the economic recovery widens, the demand for new cars is expected to increase, and landing a new auto maker is one of Gov. Pat McCrory’s top priorities. North Carolina commerce officials are gearing up to get in the running for a large-scale auto plant or other large manufacturer, according to a report in the News & Observer and the Charlotte Observer. This will put to the test the McCrory administration’s new commerce structure, with Sharon Decker heading the state Commerce Department and a separate, private entity, the N.C. Economic Development Partnership, set up to help. (The partnership still appears to be trying to find its footing, though.)
North Carolina faces stiff competition from other Southeast states that have a record of landing plants by offering huge incentives — South Carolina and Alabama, for example. And the biggest competition may come from Mexico, where wages are much lower.
Decker and her team recently returned from a four-day trip to Tokyo to make sure key people knew of North Carolina’s interest. This brings back memories of recruitment in the Jim Hunt era, especially during Hunt’s first two terms as governor. Hunt traveled to Europe, the Middle East and Asia to promote the state and woo industry. He was hunting for buffalo — big companies that could help transform the state. The M.A.N. Bus plant that landed in western Rowan County — later bought by Freightliner — was one such buffalo.
As time went by, “industrial recruitment” became “economic development,” and officials shifted their focus to smaller companies. In recent years, they’ve shifted again to emphasizing expanding existing industries and encouraging entrepreneurship. But landing a major manufacturer has always been the ultimate dream.
North Carolina has had some high-profile economic development disappointments, such as the Dell plant in Winston-Salem that announced its closing just four years after opening. But elsewhere in the South, auto makers have proved to be less fickle. Check out Mercedes-Benz in Alabama and BMW in South Carolina.
Republican lawmakers have been cool toward incentives, but some rethinking is in order. North Carolina needs to be all-in on this recruitment effort if McCrory and Decker have any hope of landing another big factory.