Raleigh, N.C. — The House tentatively approved a major reorganization of the state Commerce Department Wednesday, including creating a nonprofit to take over job-recruitment efforts statewide.
A final vote on Senate Bill 127 is expected Thursday. The bill would then need to return to the Senate for its agreement before going to Gov. Pat McCrory, who pitched the reorganization last month.
The 76-38 House vote cut across party lines, with some rural Democrats joining the majority of Republicans in favor of the bill and some Republicans opposed to industrial recruitment incentives joining the majority of Democrats who voted against it.
"Doing things the same way and expecting a different result is not going to get us where we need to go," said Rep. Mike Stone, R-Lee, in urging House members to support the bill.
"The biggest problem we have in western North Carolina is not getting any attention out of Raleigh," said Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Haywood, praising the work of regional economic development organizations that will be downsized under the plan.
"Power needs not to reside in Raleigh exclusively," Queen said.
Instead of having the Commerce Department and the regional groups working to recruit new business and expansions to North Carolina, a nonprofit run by a board with appointees from the private and public sector would coordinate efforts.
"We want to make sure we're singing out of the same song book," said Rep. Tom Murry, R-Wake, the bill's chief sponsor in the House, noting that the state now has "a patchwork" of economic development efforts.
Commerce Department functions involving federal dollars, in particular the section that oversees unemployment benefits, would stay in the government agency.
An amendment offered by Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Carteret, also calls for segregating money to promote travel and tourism with funds Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker wants to use to create a new brand for North Carolina.