Some Republican lawmakers are pushing to revamp the state's programs that recruit businesses and create jobs, a move that would call for gutting the state's lead economic development agency, the N.C. Department of Commerce.
A bill introduced Wednesday would replace the state Commerce Department with the N.C. Carolina Jobs and Commerce Corp. The new agency would consolidate all economic development functions under one heading.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Tom Murry of Wake County, said the state has more than a dozen economic development agencies, commissions, bureaus and offices, working without coordination and sometimes at cross-purposes.
One of Murry's criticisms, echoed by others over the years, is that the system lacks accountability. It generates publicity for elected officials at staged ribbon cuttings but often fails to produce the promised jobs, he said.
"We need direction," Murry said. "Our current economic development structure is more interested in job announcements than job creation."
Murry's bill is co-sponsored by Danny McComas of New Hanover, Tim Moffitt of Buncombe and Jeff Collins of Nash counties.
Restructuring major governmental functions is a massive undertaking, one that legislators may not be willing to take on.
Additionally, the bill calls for creating a task force to audit the state's economic development initiatives. The task force would assess the effectiveness of incentives offered to companies for creating jobs and it would also look for examples of multiple agencies performing the same functions.
Murry said the private sector couldn't get away with spending tens of millions of dollars on programs without calculating the return on investment. He noted that he is not opposed to paying incentives to recruit business but officials should track the program's effectiveness in job creation.
The claim that private industry is a model of accountability may be debatable in the era of credit default swaps and complex mortgage bundling schemes, but it's hard to dispute that a lack of information in government agencies tends to create suspicion.
State and local incentives are typically paid after the jobs are created, so that a company that fails to produce promised jobs is not paid. But some are concerned that the jobs that are created can be just as easily eliminated several years after incentives have been paid out.
Clarification: Rep. Tom Murry's legislative proposal to revamp the N.C. Department of Commerce would create a new organization, the N.C. Jobs and Commerce Corp., that would be located outside the UNC system.
However, Murry also is proposing a task force to monitor the effectiveness of the state's incentives program, and that would be based somewhere within the UNC system, he said this morning. One possible location for the task force would be the Small Business Technology Development Center, a training and resource facility based in Raleigh and associated with N.C. State University.