Cross your fingers and hope for the best. That may be the best strategy for buying a lottery ticket, but its not an effective plan for producing jobs. Yet hope for the best is essentially the economic development medicine prescribed by many in North Carolina.
Thats not good enough for me, and, thankfully, its not good enough for Gov. Pat McCrory and Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker. Their approach seeks to do something different by proposing an overhaul of the states job recruitment apparatus with the Partnership for Prosperity initiative. This plan deploys business-minded economic developers onto the main streets of North Carolina. These developers will be efficient and accountable. Those who produce jobs will be rewarded; those who dont will be sent packing.
North Carolina has a rich history of forward-thinking efforts to transform its economy. Our guiding example is the establishment of the Research Triangle Park in 1959 by a bipartisan, inter-disciplinary group of business, government and academic leaders. Today, I am proud to serve as chair of the Research Triangle Foundation, which owns the park that boasts over 100,000 high-wage employees.
This employment has spilled into outlying areas such as Holly Springs, Northern Durham, Sanford, Clayton and Zebulon all sites of large biopharmaceutical manufacturing plants, an industry in which North Carolina is a clear leader in the world.
The Research Triangle Park has been a tremendous success. With new thinking, it enabled the state to migrate from traditional textile, furniture and tobacco businesses into the economies of the future.
In same way, new thinking is required for our new challenges. Today, there are 32 North Carolina counties suffering with unemployment rates in the double digits, and many of them have suffered through this high level of joblessness for years. Another 32 counties have jobless rates above the state average of 8.5 percent. All of these counties are outside the Wake and Mecklenburg metro areas.
Though the problems and solutions are undoubtedly complex, we must develop an approach that works for all North Carolinians. More of the same is not enough.
What McCrory and Decker seek to do is bring a fresh approach by localizing responsibility and promoting accountability and entrepreneurial thinking. All economic development is local, which is why Partnership for Prosperity developers will be stationed in the regions they serve.
They will devote as much time and resources on homegrown businesses that want to expand as they will recruiting new industries. The economic and cultural strengths of North Carolinas regions will be embraced including older economy jobs like manufacturing and agriculture and newer economy jobs like computer engineering and bioprocess manufacturing. We need all jobs to overcome this unemployment challenge, and that is what the governors plan seeks to accomplish..
Private sector economic developers are a vital part of this partnership, a fact that troubles some. It shouldnt because the private sector has always been a creator of sustainable economic growth. Just look at the Research Triangle Park, where almost all of the jobs created are for private sector employers.
To avoid potential conflicts of interest, the Partnership for Prosperity plan has placed a firewall so that public and private economic development monies will not be comingled. Public officials will make all the decisions regarding the investment of precious tax dollars.
Eventually, this new approach will save the taxpayers money. However, cost savings is not the primary goal. The goal is creating jobs in every region of the state. Those who claim the current system isnt broken are ignoring part of the truth. A big part of North Carolina is suffering, and we must do something differently from what we have in the past. While North Carolina has a great economic heritage, we must evolve our strategy by daring to do things different and empowering those who have the job to create jobs.
McCrory and Deckers plan does just this. For the sake of all North Carolinians, lets join them in taking the risk to set a new course.
Robert F. Ingram is chairman of the Research Triangle Foundation.