Governor Cooper’s recent announcement of a new healthcare lab opening in Durham stands in stark contrast to the negative impacts of his restrictive mandates on the state’s current business community. The fact that this new company was enticed using taxpayer funds is another example of the governor’s cavalier approach to the state’s economic woes and furthers the appearance that he doesn’t care.
Tens of thousands of businesses remain closed across the state, impacting every aspect of the state’s economy. Current unemployment is estimated to be 12 per cent. Approximately one million North Carolinians are out of work, and as a result the state’s economy is tumbling fast. The legislature is now grappling with a $4 billion-plus shortfall, negatively impacting county and municipal budgets that are in turn harming public services such as schools and infrastructure needs.
These are immediate needs that need immediate attention from the governor and the legislature.
Yet these concerns were not evident Wednesday as the governor announced Grail Inc. has selected Durham as a site for its lab and warehouse operations.
This new start-up California healthcare company is pioneering advanced cancer testing that may revolutionize the process. The company is expected to invest $100 million in “state-of-the-art laboratory facilities and warehouse space creating 398 jobs “over time.”
Buried in the governor’s announcement is a potential $5.2 million financial payback the state used in enticing the company to invest in North Carolina. The money, coming from the state’s Job Development Investment Grant (JDIG), will be doled out to the company over a 12-year period as it fulfills the promised employment goals.
This announcement indicates that the governor would rather engage in a comfortable photo-op with a potential investor than deal with the more challenging issue of putting North Carolinians back to work. It also shows that he sees tax funds- that are rapidly declining- as an opportunity to select what companies will receive his generous financial support.
JDIG funds are by their very nature a means for politicians and the politically connected in the state to make friends with other major companies. In the process, using the N.C. Department of Commerce as cover, these politicians, particularly the governor, can influence businesses and in the process select the winners and losers of who gets state funding.
Theoretically the funds are designed to entice private investment in tier-1 and tier-2 counties- economically stressed areas of the state. So far only a few investment dollars show up in these regions of the state. Durham is one of only twenty tier-3 counties, yet it along with other similar counties such as Wake, Guilford and Mecklenburg are the primary recipients of these taxpayer supported give-backs. The state set aside $67 million in the previous biennial budget and should Cooper and the legislature come to agreement on the current budget (in limbo due to the governor’s veto), that pot of money could swell to $72 million.
What is most galling about this most recent hyped business announcement is that the governor seems more concerned about a potential corporate addition to the state while he ignores the investments that businesses, small and large, continue to make in the state’s economy. And, now that the vast majority of those ongoing operations are severely restricted by the governor’s mandates, he turns to another investment bet that gives him cover from trying to find solutions to the mess he’s made.
This past week’s photo op is, sadly, another example of the lack of leadership, empathy and imagination on the part of the governor. It is time for Cooper to own up to the financial disaster he is creating and restart the state’s economic engine. He can do this by removing his draconian mandates on the state’s loyal businesses which will produce jobs and put the state on a path of economic recovery.