RALEIGH — When state officials met Thursday morning in a fourth-floor conference room to award one of the largest state job grants in North Carolina history to MetLife, the company was represented by several members of Gov. Pat McCrory’s former employer.
The Charlotte law firm Moore & Van Allen, where McCrory was employed until just days before taking office, helped the New York-based insurance company negotiate with state and local governments to receive more than $94 million in taxpayer-funded incentives in return for the promise to add more than 2,600 jobs in the next three years.
The connection raises questions in the minds of Democrats about McCrory’s role in the deal and again shines light on his employment at the law firm, which also runs a lobbying practice in Raleigh. Republicans used similar concerns to reject a major economic development project under Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue, citing how the company hired a Raleigh law firm that employed her son.
“I would hope this current transaction would withstand scrutiny,” said Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat. “Whenever relationships occur, they are going to be subjected to close, rigorous review.”
McCrory’s tenure as a senior director of strategic initiatives at Moore & Van Allen and his gubernatorial campaign overlapped with the eight-month period in which state officials were trying to lure the company to North Carolina. The other company involved in the negotiations, the relocation firm KLG Advisors, first contacted state officials about the MetLife project in June, according to the Commerce Department.
A McCrory spokeswoman said McCrory was not involved with MetLife when he worked for the law firm. “There was a complete firewall and no interaction,” said Communications Director Kim Genardo.
Genardo said McCrory met the company’s executives for the first time at the jobs announcement Thursday.
Brian Nick, a spokesman for Moore & Van Allen and a former top McCrory campaign adviser, said the governor’s former job was “not part in any way, shape or form” with the firm’s economic development team.
In 2011, as the state tried to lure a $500 million Continental tire plant and its 1,300 jobs, Senate Republicans rejected the Perdue administration’s request for $45 million in cash incentives for the project, citing her son’s connection and that of a Democratic state senator who owned part of the property in the deal.
The governor said she didn’t know about the property ownership or her son’s firm’s involvement.
Senate leader Phil Berger, an Eden Republican who raised those concerns, dismissed questions about McCrory’s connection in the MetLife deal. “I think it’s a whole different circumstance,” he said.
Berger also expressed no concern about the large incentives offered to the company because the money is part of existing economic development programs and includes parameters to ensure the company’s job promises are met.
On the campaign trail, McCrory gave the impression that he opposed incentives, but he used them often as Charlotte mayor and acknowledged that he would do the same as governor.
Instead of incentives, McCrory emphasized a long-term solution that didn’t include tax breaks for companies but included lowering corporate and personal income taxes. He also talked of conducting an across-the-board review of the state’s economic development programs.
Not all Republicans are comfortable with McCrory’s stance; the state GOP platform calls incentives “contrary to the free enterprise system.” House Speaker Pro Tem Paul “Skip” Stam, who lives in Apex, next door to Cary, is opposed to the tax breaks offered MetLife. He said they were unfair to existing businesses.
“I oppose picking one company over another company,” Stam said.
Republican state Rep. Tom Murry of Morrisville said incentives likely played a small role in the company’s decision, citing the area’s highly educated workforce.
“There is room for improvement in incentive programs, but that’s just a small piece of economic development,” he said. “Once you have them on the line, incentives are just the hook.”