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Our View: North Carolina in recruiting game, at last

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Rocky Mount Telegram

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

For years, North Carolina could do little more than watch from the sidelines when the courtship of giant automakers and other manufacturers grew intense. We were stymied by a lack of readily available incentive money, or a clumsy legislature too slow to compete, or both.

So our eyes opened like saucers this year when the state went all in for a potential Toyota-Mazda plant. Gov. Roy Cooper and the Republican-led N.C. General Assembly found a way to put aside partisan differences and work together, assembling an incentives package worth $1.5 billion. Holy Camry, that’s a lot of money.

And guess what. It didn’t work. Toyota-Mazda drove down to the Heart of Dixie and with just $380 million in incentives, Alabama landed the plant. The car guys loved the supply chain already well established in Alabama. That infrastructure, plus years of experience proved more attractive than the dowry assembled by Cooper and lawmakers. Sorry, North Carolina.

So if we can’t woo them with cash, what’s it going to take to bring home a car plant? Or a major railroad-trucking transportation hub, for that matter?

Political leaders and economic recruiters in the Twin Counties are still smarting from our own failure to win some love from CSX railroad.

Less than a year ago, we were all toasting our good fortune and an opportunity to bring in hundreds of jobs paying an average of $60,000 per year at a giant transportation hub with the potential to link trains, planes, ships and trucking.

But that fell apart with a major change in leadership and philosophy at CSX. Eastern North Carolina came up short again.

Yet all is not lost. Edgecombe County still has won the hearts and commitments of Corning Inc. and Triangle Tire.

Corning plans to build a distribution center that will employ about 150 people and invest $66 million into the area. Triangle will construct a major manufacturing facility that will hire 800 workers.

The announcements of those two plants came about a week apart and spelled some of the best economic news Eastern North Carolina has heard in decades.

Those companies will offer good jobs with good pay and benefits. Their impact likely will be felt for generations to come.

It would be wise for all of us to step back a moment to study the economic wins and losses of 2017. What was the secret to attracting Corning and Triangle? What might have been done differently with CSX? And how in the world does $1.5 billion fail to land a car plant?

Reviewing the Corning and Triangle gains will be a sweet trip for the political leaders and recruiters involved. Trying to figure out what went wrong with CSX and Toyota-Mazda will be less enjoyable, but perhaps even more valuable.

North Carolina still has a long way to go before it lands a giant manufacturer on the scale of a carmaker or aerospace manufacturer. But it’s good to see us in the game, at least. For a long time, that didn’t seem possible.

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