Commentary

Christensen: McCrory wanted to rebrand NC; the legislature is doing it for him

rchristensen@newsobserver.comJuly 6, 2013 

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A man walks alongside the big state seal at the entrance to the Legislative Building in Raleigh on Jan. 23, 2013, as the legislative session begins.

CHRIS SEWARD — cseward@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

North Carolina’s national brand may be changing – but not the way Gov. Pat McCrory intended when he talked during his campaign about the Tar Heel state undergoing an image makeover.

“North Carolina’s economic development brand is currently being diminished by high taxes, excessive regulation and broken state government,” was McCrory’s standard campaign line.

There was the suggestion of perhaps a new advertising slogan. The new brand that McCrory seems to want is that North Carolina is more business-friendly.

But since he took office in January, the state has been undergoing a brand change of a very different kind.

The sharp rightward turn of the legislature and the Moral Monday protests have turned North Carolina into one of the nation’s top political spectacles.

CBS News, Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, MSNBC and The New York Times have all beaten a path to Raleigh to gawk.

The national coverage is worth millions of dollars of publicity. Unfortunately for North Carolina, it may also be the wrong kind of publicity.

Moderate reputation

For decades, North Carolina prided itself as a middle-of-the road state, electing moderate governors of both parties. Such stable, moderate governance was considered good for business.

One of the reasons North Carolina didn’t mount a campaign of massive resistance against integration during the 1950s and 1960s was that governors such as Luther Hodges and the state’s business leadership thought it would scare away the corporations the state was trying to convince to locate here.

So how does the current legislature’s agenda fit into the state’s image of a modern, moderate state where a smart 21st-century executive would want to invest?

Anti-gay laws? Shariah legislation? Guns in bars? Some of the worst-funded public schools and worst-paid teachers in the nation? Shrinking the once proud University of North Carolina’s budget? Harsh anti-abortion legislation? The list goes on.

The massive weekly demonstrations and arrests look like a state that is on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Companies are watching

The lawmakers claim not to be concerned about the national coverage. I believe them. But they should be.

They may not read or watch the national news. But guess who does? The deep pockets who decide where the jobs will go.

Think about the companies that North Carolina is counting on to invest in its future: MetLife of New York; Citrix Systems of Santa Clara, Calif.; Fidelity Systems of Boston; Wells Fargo of San Francisco; GlaxoSmithKline of London; Cisco Systems of San Jose, Calif.; Lenovo of Beijing; and Credit Suisse of Zurich.

Undoubtedly, someone will say, well what about Texas? That is a very conservative state, yet it attracts lots of corporations. But Texas is America’s Saudi Arabia, and unless North Carolina discovers another Permian Basin, it can not count on following the Texas model.

What kind of brand do you think these out-of-state companies are looking for? Do you think they are looking for strife-filled states with bargain basement taxes whose politics have become political three-ring circuses? Or are they looking for moderate, well-regulated states?

Six months into his administration, McCrory may have already lost control of the branding issue.

Christensen: 919-829-4532

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