Under the Dome

Economic developers push for incentives program

Economic development projects around the state are in jeopardy because of the uncertainty about the Job Development Investment Grants program, said Michael Smith, president of the North Carolina Economic Development Association.

Professional economic developers from around the state were at the Legislative Building on Tuesday to champion JDIG, which has run out of money and is up for an extension.

The economic developers made their public appeal as talk of economic incentives has receded in the legislature and as the budget debate has moved front and center.

“JDIG is a key tool for attracting high-impact investment in a fast-pace competitive market,” Smith said. Companies must meet hiring and investment goals in order to receive the money.

The program’s funding is capped at $22.5 million for the two years ending June 30. An attempt by Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration last year to raise the cap to $36.5 million failed.

Smith, executive director of Statesville regional development, said he would prefer no cap on JDIG, and disagrees with a Senate proposal that would limit the grants going to Wake, Durham and Mecklenburg counties. Among the criticisms of JDIG is that much of the grant money has gone to those counties rather than to rural counties where unemployment is higher. Critics also fault the program for picking ‘winners and losers.’

NCEDA members have been trying to build public support for the program with a strategy that includes newspaper opinion pieces.

Smith said other states have used JDIG-style programs to attract businesses.

Volvo’s recent announcement that it is building a plant in South Carolina highlights the need for JDIG as a business lure, Smith said.

“We need it passed this month,” he said.

The House and Senate have produced different incentive packages. The House has passed an incentives bill. The Senate has two bills dealing with incentives and tax cuts. All are sitting in a Senate committee.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, a Jacksonville Republican, said his caucus will discuss JDIG this week, and an incentives proposal is likely to roll out next week.