MOVING THE NEEDLE IS TOUGH
Brent Lane, director of the UNC Center for Competitive Economies, is a straight-talking, no-nonsense personality and this week he minced no words with Legislators in an appropriations meeting for Natural and Economic Resources. North Carolina, he said, is in the doldrums and dropping further down each day. His statistics were disconcerting.
Wages are down in all areas except arts and entertainment and agriculture when compared to U.S. averages. Financial sector salaries are down by 23 percent and even healthcare personnel in N.C. are earning less. In only three counties in the state are workers earnings matching the U.S. average. Since 2008, our wages have fallen from 92.8 percent of U.S. per capita income to 87 percent. If our trend continues, we will be earning 79 percent of national income average in 2014 which is where we were in 1969.
Consider that the current labor force in the state is 4.53 million; the number of jobs 4.02 million. To move our unemployment rate down 1 percent from 9.9 will require 40,000 new jobs. “We’re a big economy going through a transition and we are not creating enough jobs,” Lane said. Understatement.
Another insight: Since 2001 our labor force has grown by 329,012; new jobs created in that period: 13,806 net.
INCENTIVE MONEY: Lane’s appearance was prompted by Legislative debate over the use of economic incentives, include the North Carolina One Fund, tax credits for jobs creation, Job Development Investment Grants (JDIG), Job Maintenance and Capital Development Act (JMAC), and Industrial Development Funds. A number of new House members are questioning the use of tax money to lure new businesses to the state. A bill that was vetoed earlier this year would have required Gov. Perdue to relinquish $400 million in economic development fund balances to help fill up the budget hole.
Lane acknowledged that more Legislative oversight is needed in the state’s economic development investments which have totaled $1.7 billion since 2002. He also said some appropriations have actually encouraged companies to lay off employees by giving them money to modernize operations.
ENERGY BONANZA: One of the biggest developments to hit North Carolina still remains a secret in most areas. One of the nation’s biggest deposits of natural gas reportedly lies under the shale in the area where Lee and Moore Counties share a border. Coal mining was once an industry in the area around Goldston. A mine disaster in the 1930s shut down the coal mines which were never major operations. But now property owners in the region as being approached to sell mineral or natural gas rights.
Rep. Mitchell Gillespie of Marion, whose district includes much of Burke County, has taken a special interest in the development and has drafted legislation to protect the property owners and the state government. Gillespie insists the natural gas reserves are massive and the next generation of Clampetts will come from the Sandhills.
Note: Gillespie and other senior Republicans in the House and Senate have concluded the Department of Natural and Economic Resources (DNER) should be trimmed back, saying that overbearing regulations have hurt economic development.
DEMOCRATS DIVIDED: House Democrats are having difficulty framing positions in the current session. Rep. Bill Faison is trying to rally moderate to conservative representatives, while former Speaker Joe Hackney pushes the agenda for progressive to liberal members.
In the Senate, where Republicans have a veto-proof majority, Sen. Martin Nesbitt of Asheville is the voice of the loyal opposition.
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