Gov. Pat McCrory pledged to visit Rocky Mount again and again during his time as governor.
“You guys have this coalition of leaders in Rocky Mount that is second to no other town or city in North Carolina,” McCrory told a crowd of approximately 600 business and community leaders Thursday night during the Rocky Mount Area Chamber of Commerce’s 109th annual meeting.
McCrory was the keynote speaker for the sold-out event, which took place in Brown Auditorium at Nash Community College. He spoke about a variety of issues and initiatives, including the need for developing long-term solutions, reviving the state’s economy and treating businesses as customers, rather than adversaries.
Earlier in the day, McCrory visited local businesses, including shops on the Douglas Block. McCrory said he was impressed by the energy and enthusiasm people have toward reviving Main Street in Rocky Mount.
“We’ve got to do that throughout North Carolina,” McCrory said.
Several members of McCrory’s cabinet have connections to Rocky Mount, including Secretary of Administration Bill Daughtridge and Chief of Staff Thomas Stith. McCrory announced Thursday that Jim Gardner will serve as director of the ABC system. McCrory said he is surrounded by people who grew up with “the values and the business ethics and the spirit of this great city.”
“As I look at Rocky Mount, it often follows the good, the bad and the tough times that we’re having in this state, and my goal is to help your local leaders and help your businesses rebuild the economy in this area,” McCrory said.
One of the immediate issues the state must deal with is unemployment compensation, McCrory said.
He announced Thursday that he will support a total reform of how the state operates unemployment compensation and insurance.
A Republican-led effort to overhaul the state’s unemployment system passed the N.C. House Finance Committee on Thursday. The measure would reduce unemployment benefits starting July 1. It also would increase unemployment taxes that businesses pay. Enacting the changes July 1 would mean the end of an extra year of emergency jobless benefits that Congress approved in January after six months.
The proposed measure is designed to help speed up the repayment of approximately $2.8 billion the state borrowed from the federal government to help pay for unemployment benefits. During the past two years, the state has had to pay the federal government $150 million in interest alone, McCrory said.
He said the state needs to “pay off the credit card.”
“This is a very, very tough decision for me, but it is a decision in which I will support the Senate and the House in making,” McCrory said. “I will sign that as one of my first pieces of legislation as governor.”
The state also needs to connect commerce with education, McCrory said.
Even with the state’s high unemployment rate, some employers tell him they can’t find qualified employees to fill their job openings, McCrory said.
“There’s no excuse for that,” McCrory said. “That to me says there’s a disconnect between our educational institutions and our commerce institutions.”
Education will change dramatically because of technology, and North Carolina needs to be a leader in that effort, McCrory said.
He discussed a two-tier approach to education. In addition to helping students develop critical-thinking skills and problem-solving skills and teaching them about subjects such as history, writing and liberal arts, education also should teach students skills that will help them obtain a job after graduating, McCrory said.
He also spoke about plans to develop a 25-year transportation plan and to look at energy exploration options for the state. His staff members are working to identify problems and to solve them with long term solutions, not short-term fixes, McCrory said.
He said the state has not updated its economic development plan since 1985.
“We’re going to create a new plan, and we’re going to do it with your input, with your involvement, with your commitment and with your energy,” McCrory said. “And we’re going to do it with a sense of urgency, realizing that if we don’t do it, the competition will.”