Commentary by Justin Guillory, Think NC First Executive Director

In his first State of the State address almost two years ago, Gov. McCrory called for a major rebranding for state economic development: “We cannot live off of a brand that needs updating and major revamping to not only compete with our neighbors, but to compete with the rest of the world…. North Carolina’s economic brand has not been updated – and we've looked – since the 1980s.”

Two years later, where is the brand?

When he came into office, Gov. McCrory made it clear that he wanted to chart a different course than the previous administration and that was certainly understandable. He’s a Republican and they were Democrats.

The change of direction was stark on several fronts, including taxes, education and the environment—areas where Republicans and Democrats have traditionally had major differences. But Gov. McCrory’s push for something different extended into segments of state government that are traditionally less politicized and where North Carolina has historically been praised for good governance—most notably in Medicaid administration and the Department of Commerce.

After months of pushing a privatization scheme, Gov. McCrory has backed off of his aggressive Medicaid reform. But when it comes to the State Department of Commerce, Gov. McCrory continues to push ahead with his public-private partnership, a rebrand and general shakeup within the economic development community. What’s less clear is what to make of this entire hubbub.

When it comes to job creation, Gov. McCrory’s first priority was tax cuts. Agree or disagree with that approach, at least it is a strategy.  But for the rest of the changes happening in the Department of Commerce, it looks a lot like rearranging the deck chairs. Let’s just hope we’re not aboard the Titanic.

The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina opened its doors in October. They’ve shifted staff within Commerce, lost institutional memory and cut funding for regional partnerships. In the wake of all these changes, the McCrory administration has talked a lot about flexibility in the new partnership. Flexibility sounds nice in a speech, but was it really holding us back? Here’s a list of business rankings from the year before Gov. McCrory was inaugurated:  

  • #1 Best Regulatory Environment for Business, Forbes
  • #2 Best State for Business, Chief Executive
  • #2 Lowest State & Local Tax Burden on Business, Ernst & Young
  • #3 America's Top States for Business, CNBC
  • #3 Best State for Business, Forbes
  • #3 Best Business Climate, Site Selection

The state clearly isn’t creating jobs fast enough to account for the losses during the Great Recession, and it’s a fools errand to think that North Carolina can escape the forces of the global economy. But what we can control, including our State Department of Commerce, is not the problem.

So two years into the McCrory administration, there have been a lot of machinations, but no new brand and few results.

Veterans in the economic development community are rightly worried about the direction we are headed and how Gov. McCrory’s reforms have affected our state’s reputation in the eyes of business leaders and industrial recruiters around the country. “What’s happening in North Carolina?” is becoming a popular refrain.

Governor McCrory hasn’t adequately explained why his way is better, not just different. Instead, it sounds like changing just for change’s sake.