Broad economic development bill 'on the table'

Posted May 18

NC Flag, Legislative Building, Raleigh

— Members of the Senate and the House have filed sprawling economic development bills that are a compendium of wish-lists from the North Carolina Chamber, the McCrory administration and bills that have fallen short of passage in prior legislative sessions.

Among the 14 parts of Senate Bill 826 and its companion measure, House Bill 1090, are a crowd-funding measure favored by tech companies and investor advocates, as well as a tax break for insurers that invest in North Carolina businesses. However, given the rocky history of economic development bills at the legislature, it's unclear which – if any – of the measures would find their way into law.

"I think we just wanted to throw them all out there and see what kind of reception they got," said Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, the Senate's senior budget chairman and a key player on economic development issues.

Brown said the Senate would likely move its bill forward as a stand-alone measure rather than rolling it into the budget. None of the provisions appear to be included in the version of the budget being vetted by the House this week.

Among the measures in the bill are:

  • Crowd-funding: This would let small investors make $5,000 investments in North Carolina companies, up to a total of $2 million, without the company having to register such investments as a formal security.
  • New markets credit: The credit would give insurance companies and their affiliates a tax break for investing in North Carolina companies that would otherwise have problems attracting capital.
  • Venture fund: Creates a small-business venture capital fund overseen by the state treasurer and paid for through the escheats fund.
  • University: Two different programs outlined in the bill would attract entrepreneurs to North Carolina, help connect them to projects developed in University of North Carolina system schools and create a grant program to help develop businesses that build on ideas first developed at UNC system campuses.
  • Marketing: The bill would plow more money into marketing the state as a travel destination.

Sen. Rick Gunn, R-Alamance, is the lead author of the bill. Parts of it, he said, are ideas that have been debated in years past at the General Assembly. Others, he said, com from Gov. Pat McCrory's Commerce Department. Still other parts, Gunn said, came from the N.C. Chamber, which conducted a listening tour across the state that he participated in.

"We got a lot of ideas from them," Gunn said of the chamber. "There's something in there for everybody."

Gunn said he planned to push to keep the entire bill intact, saying each portion would help small and mid-sized businesses in the state.

"Not one of these individual pieces by themselves is going to make a material difference," he said. "If you want to move the needle for the businesses I'm taking about, you're going to have to do all them."

Rep. Susan Martin, R-Wilson, the bill's lead author in the House, declined to discuss the House version of the measure on Wednesday, saying she had to prepare for the House budget debate.

But Rep. John Bell, R-Wayne, said during a break in the budget debate that the bills were meant to compile ideas from many different quarters to see which ones could garner support.

"You have to put it all together in order to start that process," Bell said.

Brown agreed, saying that it was far more likely pieces of the bill would pass.

"I'm not sure what's going to survive," Brown said.

Both House and Senate leaders say they plan to move forward with work on their versions of the bill soon. But in recent legislative sessions, economic development measures have been the subject of last-minute donnybrooks in the waning days and hours of legislative sessions. Last year, that economic development effort stalled out.

"We hope it will be different this year," Bell said.

Brown said he also hopes to avoid the rancor that has sometimes characterized negotiations between the House and the Senate, but he believes the economic development bill would not be settled until the end of this year's session.


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