We don’t envy Chris Johnson, the county government employee whose job is to bring jobs to Johnston. It’s a hard task made harder by an uneven playing field.
The playing field is certainly uneven between the states, with incentives in Texas nearly approaching the entire N.C. state government budget, as Mr. Johnson noted during a recent forum on Johnston’s economy. The playing field is uneven too among N.C. counties, with the richer ones better positioned to augment incentives offered by the state.
That makes Mr. Johnson’s job hard but not impossible. Johnston County has good roads that have drawn the likes of food distributor Sysco and medical technology company Becton Dickinson. Johnston is also innovative, protecting the likes of pharmaceutical companies Grifols and Novo Nordisk against annexation in exchange for their financial support of the county’s job-training center.
And while Johnston isn’t rich, it isn’t stingy either. For example, the county routinely refunds property taxes to new and expanding companies that fulfill their job-creation promises.
Beyond all of that, Johnston leaders have been aggressive in building out industry-ready infrastructure, especially water and sewer.
Does any of this guarantee that Johnston will win the next bidding war for a job-creating employer? No, it doesn’t. But frankly, we’re not sure Johnston could afford to offer more in incentives without jeopardizing money for schools, law enforcement and other essential services.
Johnston County can’t compete with Texas. It can’t even compete with neighboring Wake County. And we’re not sure it should try to. Johnston has a lot to offer industry without giving away the farm.