Cooper to Amazon: Not all of NC is stuck in ’50s

Gov. Roy Cooper sought to reassure Amazon that North Carolina is an inclusive state that would be a good fit for the online retailer’s second headquarters, even if some of its politicians are living in the 1950s, newly released records show.

In a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in October, Cooper emphasized the state’s business-friendly climate and “welcoming” mores. The latter was a reference to the national rebuke that followed North Carolina’s passage of HB2. The controversial law regulated transgender bathroom access, and was enacted by the Republican-controlled legislature and former Gov. Pat McCrory in 2016.

Under Cooper, HB2 was repealed last year, and his administration, economic developers and the business community have been anxious to claim the controversy is behind them.

“Like every family with an embarrassing uncle or two, we have a few politicians who want it to be 1957 instead (of) 2017,” Cooper wrote. “But here in North Carolina you’ll find authentic people who respect others, who love our families, people who work hard and are loyal to the state in which we live.”

The letter surfaced as part of a records request by The News & Observer and other news outlets, and was first reported on by The Triangle Business Journal on Tuesday. The records were released by Catawba County, where the city of Hickory was one of four applications North Carolina submitted for the new headquarters. Hickory, Charlotte and the Triad did not make the cut of 20 states; the Triangle is the only North Carolina region still in competition. Catawba County’s economic development corporation did not respond to a records request from The N&O last October.

The governor’s letter also touted the state’s strong education system, high rate of immigration, its livability, and a reputation for “cool” that attracts a young workforce, including microbreweries and festivals.

“For the past half-century, we have invested heavily in human capital, from creating an early childhood program that has been a model for most states, to nurturing a community college and university system that has transformed laborers into geeks and trailblazers,” Cooper wrote.

Records also show that Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, both Republicans, wrote their own letter to Bezos pointing out that North Carolina’s income tax rate is dropping and legislators have recently bolstered the amount of financial incentives that are available. Leaders would be open to “further modifications,” they wrote.

Hickory’s pitch was that its greater metropolitan area could accommodate Amazon’s headquarters, specifically noting the Little Mountain Airport southeast of Hickory. It also touted its proximity to Charlotte. The county was willing to offer $582 million in local incentives, records show. The state’s potential contribution was not discussed in the records.

Other records included letters from state officials and the North Carolina congressional delegation, and testimonials by executives of companies operating in the state, including Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst who said the talent base was “phenomenal.”

Craig Jarvis: 919-829-4576, @CraigJ_NandO