Raleigh, N.C. — Email exchanges and other documents released by the Commerce Department Monday regarding the effort to recruit MetLife to the state show that North Carolina State University and other educational institutions played a role in landing the company.
The insurance giant has pledged to bring 2,600 jobs to North Carolina as part of a relocation deal. In exchange, the state has pledged some $94.2 million in publicly funded incentives.
Meetings with N.C. State officials were a key part of company officials' itinerary when they came to the state, and MetLife was particularly keen on learning how many graduates with finance and computer technology backgrounds the state's university and community college systems turned out every year.
"We are as important of a piece of the infrastructure of this state as the highways are, as the airports are, as high speed Internet is. We are just as important to business as any of those," said UNC System President Tom Ross, who was meeting with reporters in downtown Raleigh Monday.
Asked about N.C. State's involvement in MetLife's recruitment, Ross said that the university helped attract and produce "talent" of which companies here could take advantage.
"The economic battlefield is going to be about talent," Ross said. "It's not so much about the cost of labor. It's not so much about technology. ...This is about talent, and the university is about talent. It's a the core of what we do."
Ross said Monday that budget cuts proposed by Gov. Pat McCrory could inhibit the 16-campus UNC system to generate graduates that are important to companies like MetLife.
McCrory's budget cuts UNC funding by more than $140 million, according to Ross, far less according to McCrory administration officials. But McCrory would make up for some of that budget cut by increasing fees on out-of-state students.
"That's why I worry about the budget cuts, because they do send a message outside the borders about the way you value higher education," Ross said.