Patrick Gannon: North Carolina newcomer to recruit jobs

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 29, 2015

RALEIGH – North Carolina’s new, top jobs recruiter moved to the state at the first of the year.

Christopher Chung, the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina’s chief executive officer, had stepped foot in the state three times, including his job interview and a trip to find an apartment. He can’t wait to see the Outer Banks.

Now, it’s up to Chung and the staff of the partnership —which recently took over job recruiting and tourism marketing efforts from the state Commerce Department —to convince outsiders to move to North Carolina.

For seven years, Chung, 38, led Missouri’s public-private economic development organization, similar to North Carolina’s, which opened in Cary last fall. Chung said he already feels at home here.

“I’ve got my driver’s license already. The DMV was very quick, very efficient,” he said at a news conference, referring to Gov. Pat McCrory’s emphasis on customer service at the Division of Motor Vehicles.

Perhaps he has the political part of his job down. But Chung — and McCrory — will be judged on how well the partnership lures companies to North Carolina, which has seen a few high-profile projects, such as a Mercedes plant, recently choose other states. The partnership is among the significant changes McCrory made in his two years as governor.

North Carolina, Chung said, is “very compelling as a product,” one of few states worth leaving Missouri for. The Tar Heel State is among the top five when it comes to the “perception of our business climate,” he said.

In other words, his decision to move to North Carolina was like a football recruit choosing Chung’s alma mater, The Ohio State University. The chances of success here are greater. That’s not to say Chung wasn’t successful in Missouri. A news release introducing Chung touted his record with the Missouri Partnership, which helped recruit 78 new corporate operations, 10,000 jobs and $1 billion in investment since 2010.

Asked about North Carolina’s strengths, Chung said it is growing in population, and its quality of life makes it possible — if not easy — for companies to recruit top talent from elsewhere. Recent corporate tax cuts help, along with strong community college and university systems, Chung added.

North Carolina’s partnership will be aggressive in business recruitment, getting out there to “try to shake the trees,” he said. He also plans to work with local and regional economic developers to “elevate their game,” so they are ready when prospects come knocking.

McCrory has made no secret of his desire to bring an auto manufacturer to North Carolina. Chung, who referred to landing an automobile plant as the “Holy Grail” for the economic development industry, has experience on that front. He chaired an automotive jobs task force in Missouri that resulted in incentives recommendations, which led to legislation that ultimately helped spur major investments by General Motors and Ford there.

Chung previously worked for 10 years as an economic developer for the state of Ohio, so he’s worked under public and public-private economic development models. He’s a believer in the latter. For one, the partnership will raise money privately, giving it more resources to market the state. Second, Chung said, having a partnership outside government helps avoid upheaval and disruption of relationships each time an administration changes. Chung worked under Democratic and Republican governors in Missouri.

“I believe in the model, and I hope we can make it very, very successful here in North Carolina because I think we have an even better product to put out there,” Chung said.

Before long, we’ll have a good idea of whether he’s right.