The following editorial was published this week in the The Fayetteville Observer:
We’re not No. 1, but we’re as close as you can get. The people who evaluate economic development potential say North Carolina is a great place to do business. They usually do.
This year, both Forbes and Site Selection magazines pick this as the second-best place to do business. Chief Executive Magazine ranks us third.
Forbes put Utah at the top of its list. Georgia was ahead of us on the Site Selection list. Texas and Florida topped us on the Chief Executive tally.
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Unfortunately, experience shows that ranking high on the best-places lists only gets us so far. There’s no guarantee we’ll be flooded with new businesses and jobs.
Yet, for the Triangle and the Charlotte area, the wishes have come true. Business really is booming, and the expansions have mostly come with good-paying jobs. We wish we could say the same for the entire state, but we can’t. There are pockets of success elsewhere, like around Asheville, but for the most part, places like Fayetteville and most of the state’s rural counties have been bypassed.
The investment, Forbes says, is largely “foreign direct investment,” which brought $2.7 billion and created 5,300 jobs in 2015. But the magazine notes that foreign investment might have been greater, had it not been for House Bill 2, which repelled companies that see hostility to gay, lesbian and transgender people. “The measure has already cost the state an estimated $630 million in economic activity,” Forbes writes. That includes a canceled Deutsche Bank expansion. And, we would add, it might also be the reason for Gov. Pat McCrory’s narrow defeat at the polls last week. It would be helpful to the state’s political and economic health if the incoming General Assembly finds a way to settle the HB2 controversy when it returns to session in January.
What’s drawing companies here, anyway? The biggest factor, in two words: cheap labor. We have the second-smallest unionized labor force in the country (behind only South Carolina) and labor costs that run 11 percent below the national average – fourth lowest in the country. At the same time, we have a lot of well-educated, well-trained people in our workforce.
We hope these positive economic rankings foretell a rosy future for the North Carolina economy. For that to happen, the boom times in Charlotte and the Triangle need to expand, especially to our rural counties, and in cities and towns like Lumberton and Laurinburg and dozens more that have struggled for years. That’s when we’ll know that the potential those magazines see has become real.
The Fayetteville Observer