From the staff

Column: Thoughts from a non-golfer on the MetLife deal

dbracken@newsobserver.comMarch 14, 2013 

Let me start by saying I have nothing against golf.

I’ve played probably a couple dozen rounds in my life, and while my swing is atrocious, I have experienced on rare occasions the thrill of hitting a ball flush and watching it improbably go where I intended. Some of my best friends are golfers.

I’m also a business reporter, which means I understand the integral role that golf often plays in deal-making. Deals are sketched out, negotiated, fantasized about (sorry, President Obama and Speaker Boehner), consummated and celebrated on the golf course.

Golf is the undisputed sport of choice of both business and government elite (sorry, squash).

This fact was reinforced – with the subtlety of a 9-iron to the back windshield (sorry, Tiger) – during last week’s excitement over MetLife’s decision to add 2,600 jobs in Cary and Charlotte. Executives and state and local officials held news conferences in Raleigh and Charlotte to celebrate – and to joke incessantly about golf.

Gov. Pat McCrory started it in Raleigh by describing a conversation with MetLife’s CEO.

“I’ve already invited him to North Carolina for a round of golf – one in Cary and one in Charlotte,” McCrory said. “He was interested, by the way.”

The golf chatter intensified less than 24 hours later in Charlotte, where McCrory talked about how Eric Steigerwalt, a MetLife executive vice president whose son is an avid golfer, has been scouting out courses in the Charlotte area.

McCrory later returned to golf while lauding the business knowledge of Sharon Decker, his secretary of commerce.

When Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx stepped to the podium, he teed up his own one-liner.

“Eric, I bet you’re here partly because of the weather and the golf,” he said.

Even Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht, an avid tennis player, took note.

“They’re very excited about playing golf here,” he said. “They mentioned that four or five times.”

So what are we to make of this?

For starters, these MetLife guys, in addition to being Peanuts fans, appear to really like their golf. And the state’s golf infrastructure (sorry, universities and talented workforce) appears to be a powerful economic development tool.

Given that the McCrory Administration is planning a complete review of the state’s economic development approach, I figured I’d offer a few policy ideas (sorry, editorial board).

The state should create a Golf Development Investment Grant program that would award corporations a certain number of rounds of golf for every job they create in the state. And the Commerce Department should hire Webb Simpson immediately (sorry, Davis Love III).

I’m well aware that critics of incentives are likely to complain that my program would trigger a race to the bottom as competing states (sorry, South Carolina) tripped over themselves to offer companies larger and larger golf packages. Soon our golf courses would be filled with out-of-state executives, while many local duffers received not a single tee time for the jobs they create.

To appease my critics I propose what we’ll call a stroke-penalty. The CEO of any company that received golf rounds but failed to deliver the promised jobs would have to make it up by driving around in one of those caged carts that pick up golf balls on driving ranges.

Just think about the potential.

North Carolina: Where golfers come to create jobs.

Staff writer Sarah Nagem contributed.

David Bracken is a business editor at The News & Observer. or 919-829-4548

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