BURLINGTON, N.C. (AP) -- Gov. Pat McCrory proposed Monday the creation of a private nonprofit corporation to spearhead North Carolina's economic development and tourism efforts that he says will make the state become more competitive in the economic development game with other states.
McCrory and Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker used the backdrop of a Burlington fabric maker to unveil the concept of a North Carolina Economic Development Corp., which would receive state funds and take over many current Commerce Department responsibilities. The legislature would have to sign off on the corporation, which also would award the state's monetary economic incentives to companies wanting to set up shop or remain in the state.
The corporation is envisioned by the McCrory administration as a tool for North Carolina to speak with one voice to promote the state's brand and economy. McCrory said state and local officials and the state's corporate citizens haven't had an integrated approach to selling the state.
"All of us have the same objectives, but we're often talking over or below each other and thus they're not really hearing what our message is," said McCrory, who would be the chairman of the corporation's board, at the announcement on the floor of Copland Fabrics. The state is often losing out in the bid for big out-of-state companies seeking to expand because it takes too long to react, the governor said.
"It really will allow to position ourselves and move a lot faster (and be) a lot more nimble," Decker said in an interview. "So often the projects we lose and the reason existing business sometimes leaves is not because there's a lot more money by one of our competitors at the table. They can move a lot faster. They know what their product is, and they can sell, and they can make decisions a lot faster."
The idea of a private nonprofit corporation performing historically public-sector work is being used in places such as Indiana, Virginia and Arizona, according to business leaders at Monday's event. But it would still be a dramatic change for North Carolina, whose legislators have grappled for two decades over the effectiveness and fiscal sense of a state agency offering taxpayer-funded incentives to targeted industries.
Decker said she envisions incentives functions being handed over to a grant committee within the corporation. Elected officials would make appointments to the corporation board, thus providing a level of transparency and accountability to its actions, according to McCrory.
The corporation also would take over current Commerce Department functions of overseeing the state's travel and tourism marketing, small business development, international investment and importing and exporting goods, McCrory's office said. There would be a specific focus on agriculture and high-tech manufacturing.
Details remained sketchy Monday. McCrory announced that Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated Vice Chairman Bill Elmore would lead a 45-day review of restructuring the Commerce Department. Decker said a plan would be presented to the General Assembly by the end of the May, with the hopes that legislators would approve a bill to begin the transition.
Rep. Tom Murry, R-Wake, who attended the announcement and is likely to shepherd any bill for McCrory, said he filed a similar bill creating a nonprofit corporation in the 2011-12 session to get the conversation started. Murry said he was impressed with the economic development activity in Indiana under Gov. Mitch Daniels.
Murry said there's support for the idea within the Republican-led General Assembly, but details will be difficult to hammer out in a short period of time. Legislative leaders are aiming to adjourn for the year sometime in June.
"The obstacle is timing," Murry said. Democrats interviewed Monday night hadn't received enough details to comment.
The North Carolina Chamber supports the idea — CEO Lew Ebert participated in the news conference. He lamented later the loss of 300,000 jobs in North Carolina since the Great Recession began. North Carolina's unemployment rate is 9.4 percent, compared with the national average of less than 8 percent.
"We don't have to persuade (lawmakers) that change in necessary," Decker said.