Another Cabinet appointment breezed through a confirmation hearing on Wednesday, ending in a recommendation for the full Senate to confirm Tony Copeland as commerce secretary.
As someone whose job it is to lure economic projects to North Carolina and help them grow here, Copeland received a warm welcome from the Senate Commerce and Insurance Committee. As with most of the governor’s other Cabinet picks, Copeland had already laid the groundwork by meeting with key legislators in recent weeks.
“He has hit the ground running,” Sen. Rick Gunn, a Burlington Republican, said. “We’ve had a significant amount of conversations about how to improve the economy. ... The commerce secretary is the face of economic development.”
Copeland was already a familiar face in the private and government sectors. He was the assistant secretary of commerce, helped start the telecommunications firm BTI and worked on economic development with a Raleigh law firm. He grew up in Hertford.
Committee members pressed him on how to help rural parts of the state, which generally are not flourishing – nor receiving the same state financial incentives – as the handful of metropolitan regions are.
“We have pockets in the state that are truly hurting,” said Sen. Harry Brown, a Jacksonville Republican, adding that he would like to see a strategy that includes more than just spending public money.
Copeland said his approach to the job will be to focus on talent, logistics and infrastructure, taxes and incentives. He said he thinks the state has taken an appropriate approach to incentives.
Figuring out what works in rural areas involves tailoring efforts to match each area, with legislators, the executive branch and local government working together.
“It won’t be an off-the-shelf package,” he said. “It will be something we work on together.”
Companies go where there is a skilled workforce, Copeland said.
He also noted the governor’s proposed budget emphasizes developing project-ready sites, which includes making sure roads and utilities are in place. For example, he said, there are parts of Montgomery County that are 40 miles from a natural gas line, which inhibits development.
All but one of the eight Cabinet members Gov. Roy Cooper has named have begun the confirmation process; the next is Thursday when Michael Regan, the environment secretary, attends his first hearing. Cooper, a Democrat, sued to stop the new confirmation process created by the Republican-controlled legislature to give the Senate a say on the governor’s Cabinet, but a court ruling allowed the hearings to go forward.
Cooper’s office has been saying for weeks that the final two appointments – over the departments of revenue and information technology – will be named soon.