Foxconn Technology Group is still considering North Carolina as a possible location for its new manufacturing facility, N.C. Commerce Secretary Tony Copeland said in a TV interview recorded last Thursday, July 20. Copeland, who’s been leading the state’s economic development efforts since January, told the UNC-TV program “Bottom Line” that he’s had talks with the company. News reports have mentioned a number of states in the running for the facility, with the Wall Street Journal reporting Monday that Wisconsin is the leading candidate. Reports say the company plans to employ more than 5,000 people.
“It is being considered,” Copeland said. “Does anyone know what exactly is going on with this project? No. ... They have been here and we have dealt with them.”
Asked if he’s personally been in touch with the company, Copeland said “yes.” The Associated Press recently reported that seven states are in the running for the Foxconn project, but its list did not include North Carolina. The AP story says the company will “announce plans to develop operations in at least three states by early August.”
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Copeland also discussed North Carolina’s incentives programs during the interview with “Bottom Line.” He was critical of a Senate bill proposed this year that would redirect state financial incentives from urban counties to encourage companies to move to poorer counties. Copeland pointed out that 60 to 70 percent of new jobs in the state are located in the Triangle and Charlotte areas. “It’s working – why would we want to in any way stall the jewel in the crown? We need to do something more robust for the rural areas.”
Copeland argued that rural areas need a different incentives program than the JDIG program used to lure major employers in urban counties. JDIG, or Job Development Investment Grant, reimburses companies for a portion of their payroll taxes, but that means the grants take time to pay off for the companies. He says the state should “look at putting more money in the first years” of the corporate expansion during what he called the “valley of death for small companies.”
“I’m not saying we give money up front without a performance base and financial viability,” he said. “We’ve got to be willing to perhaps take some of that risk, let people like me assume some of that risk and hold me accountable, and do some of that in those areas.”
Copeland also said the state needs to work on improving infrastructure in rural counties, noting that some counties are 40 miles from the nearest natural gas line. “They will never get manufacturing without access to natural gas,” he said. “So we talk about rural economic development, but it’s not just about incentives.”
The commerce secretary was also asked about how the state’s public-private partnership, the Economic Development Partnership, is working with the Department of Commerce. Copeland noted that the Commerce Department’s budget is down $32 million from when he worked there 12 years ago. “I would argue that that is a negative, but we’ll make it work,” he said. “We’re not going to fight over the structure of economic development, we’re going to make it work.”