RALEIGH — Business leaders, educators and elected officials on Friday gave Gov. Pat McCrory what’s billed as a road map for North Carolina’s economic prosperity.
The state’s Economic Development Board report recommended the state focus on how to attract companies in 38 targeted industries covering 10 “clusters” ranging from agriculture and biopharmaceuticals to energy and hospitality and tourism. Counties and regional “prosperity zones” sought by the McCrory administration to collaborate on economic development goals would determine which clusters and industries best fit in their areas.
The Economic Development Board, which advises the governor and legislators on economic policy, also highlighted the need for a new branding strategy for North Carolina, efforts to help rural communities and way to bring retirees and creative entrepreneurs to the state.
The report comes as McCrory and Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker seek to move some Commerce Department recruiting and marketing functions to a new private nonprofit.
“We can be ahead of our competition — have visionary leadership and visionary strategy — or we can just keep falling behind. And we can’t afford to do that,” McCrory told board members after they approved the plan at an Executive Mansion luncheon.
“This is a very clear upfront assessment of our state’s strengths and weaknesses,” the Republican added. “It’s not political assessment. It’s a business assessment.”
The board worked for six months on the report, described by Chairman John Lassiter as the first strategic plan executed by the panel in nearly a decade.
“We started clean, we started from the very beginning and said that we need to take a new look,” said Lassiter, a former Charlotte city councilman and close McCrory ally. “So much has changed in the economy of North Carolina.”
State resources also should be intensified in eight education sectors, the report said.
The report said the state should develop “one specific overarching brand” that focuses on “what North Caroilna is known for.” McCrory and Decker have discussed such a marketing revamp.
On taxes and regulation, the state should continue to approve more “competitive, pro-growth, fair” tax reforms, according to the report, which also envisions a temporary state “Office of Regulatory Reduction and Review” to repeal redundant and outdated laws and regulations.
Board members want to expand the use of the Job Development Investment Grant and One North Carolina incentives programs. JDIG has become the leading economic development tool for the state, in which companies who reach job creation and investment goals receive cash grants equal to a percentage of the income taxes withheld from workers’ paychecks.
The report recommended the General Assembly also create a new venture capital tax credit system and a “closing fund” with money for the governor to sweeten incentives deals when facing strong competitive pressure from other states.
Decker and McCrory have said they’re opposed to offering upfront cash payments to lure companies to build or expand. Decker said a closing fund could be used, for example, to pay for demolition of an aging building on acreage that would be attractive to a company interested in investing in North Carolina.
The report’s authors also recommended a new tax incentive system for the film industry to replace the current one set to expire at the end of this year. The report didn’t offer an alternative, but Lassiter said it needs to focus on creating a permanent film industry that will draw its workers to move to the state.
Lassiter is on the board of directors of the new Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, which is poised to take over recruiting companies, films, tourists and sporting events to the state. Decker announced the hiring of an interim CEO earlier this month. The General Assembly would have to sign off on more changes this spring to finalize the transfer.