A funny thing happened to Sharon Decker on her way to a new career as a university chaplain. She had left behind a couple of successful corporate careers, as the first female vice president of Duke Energy (a 24-hour customer service center was one accomplishment), running a nonprofit, as head of Doncaster, an women’s apparel line, as founder of another faith-based nonprofit and she had studied for a master’s of divinity.
Then Gov.-elect Pat McCrory, a former Duke Energy employee himself, called to offer her the job of secretary of the state Department of Commerce. Decker, who smiles easily and whose personality conveys a self-awareness and a personal comfort with her choices, accepted. It may be one of McCrory’s most fortuitous appointments and one of his most important at a time when his administration seems to be either ignored or bossed around by contentious Republicans in the General Assembly.
Decker is not affiliated with a political party and professes no office-seeking ambitions herself. She retains some impressive corporate board memberships and has won a multitude of recognitions in the world of business, yet she has a deep interest in the ministry and a commitment to her faith, her husband and her four children. She lived for more than a decade in Rutherford County in the North Carolina foothills (her Doncaster connection) and thus has knowledge of North Carolina’s economic woes as an eyewitness.
At a meeting with North Carolina editors and reporters Monday, Decker acknowledged that she has seen the problems of employers vanishing in that former textile mill area and understands the need to get out-of-work folks to make a change in their cultural mindset about work. They’ll have to get training. They’ll have to be more flexible.
And the state, she believes, can help them, although she believes in the idea of public-private partnerships in business recruitment.
Some critics of McCrory’s job-creating plan as expressed during his campaign worried that it would rely entirely on giveaways through incentives and tax cuts and that Republicans would hand everything over to private industry. Decker, who doesn’t appear tied to ideology, says North Carolina isn’t losing out in going after new industry because of taxes that are too high or incentives that are too low, but because it needs to be faster on its feet. “We were just too slow,” she said.
And she doesn’t buy the idea that incentives should be eliminated, with the film industry as one example. “Those are great, creative jobs for this economy,” she said, adding, “We need to have those jobs coming here permanently with studios and the industries that support them.”
Decker also brought up something that might be anathema to some Tar Heels and some South Carolinians respectively. She believes North and South Carolina can market together, noting that one company in South Carolina cited the Charlotte airport as a recruiting tool.
In the course of the Monday meeting, Decker was offered the chance to take a swing at the Moral Monday protesters, who have been mightily criticized by Republicans in the General Assembly. To her credit, she didn’t. Decker said some of the political upheaval is not helpful in marketing the state to outsiders, but of the Monday protests, she said, “I think it’s important folks speak up.”
Let us hope that when Decker speaks up, McCrory listens.