Editorial: State's hard-earned quality brand is badly damaged, needs to be fixed

Posted April 11, 2016
Updated July 7, 2016

North Carolinas' hard-earned quality brand is broken and Gov. McCrory should repair it, not play blame games

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A CBC Editorial: Monday, April 4, 2016; Editorial# 8011
The following editorial is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company.

The North Carolina brand is badly damaged. The self-inflicted dents in the state's image have come swift. They need to be quickly fixed by Gov. Pat McCrory before they are beyond repair. They’re easy to spot:

Executives of the High Point Furniture Market told McCrory and the leaders of the Republican-controlled legislature that their hurry-up-and-pass House Bill 2 was taking a heavy toll -- customers were pulling out as the annual show this month was about to open.

Braeburn Pharmaceuticals said it was reconsidering its decision to build a $50 million facility in Durham County that would create 70 jobs, paying an average $76,000 annually.

Lionsgate Films pulled a comedy series pilot out of Charlotte and moved production to Canada, saying HB2 was the reason. Red Ventures CEO Ric Elias said his company might not expand, as planned, in Charlotte.

Now, PayPal has reversed course on its decision to bring a 400-job global operations center to Charlotte. That decision came just 19 days after McCrory announced that "North Carolina is the ideal destination for innovation-based, worldwide companies like PayPal" during a cheery event at the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce that featured a beaming McCrory, Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts and N.C. Commerce Secretary John Skvarla.

"This company's global reputation for innovation and customer service makes it a strong fit for our state’s business-friendly community," Skvarla said.

The warnings that HB2 essentially legalized discrimination -- particularly against gay, lesbian and transgender people -- went unheeded by McCrory and legislative leaders. It was McCrory -- prodded on by legislative leaders -- who was first to threaten legislative retaliation against Charlotte if it passed an ordinance recognizing the rights of LGBT persons.

House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Phil Berger (who is seeing hundreds of MillerCoors brewing jobs abandon his district) placed blame for the business exodus on Charlotte's mayor and on Attorney General Roy Cooper, two who had nothing to do with the legislature’s action, and tried to stop it.

PayPal CEO Dan Schulman was simple and direct about his decision to abandon the Charlotte expansion plan.

"The new law perpetuates discrimination and it violates the values and principles that are at the core of PayPal's 'mission and culture," he said. "Our decision is a clear and unambiguous one. But we do regret that we will not have the opportunity to be part of the Charlotte community and to count as colleagues the skilled and talented people of that region."

In the face of this, what is McCrory doing to salvage North Carolina’s brand? Up to now, ignoring it and playing the blame game. He said he has no regrets about signing the law.

"I respect disagreement. For those who disagree with that basic norm, they have that decision to make," McCrory said. Then, with something of a snicker, he continued, "I expect that PayPal will still provide their services and accept our consumer money in the state of North Carolina."

For someone who promised to bring business sensibilities to state government, McCrory couldn't be more off the mark. Maybe Skvarla might lend him the video about customer service he required all employees the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources to watch. It was a motivational lesson, "Give 'em the Pickle," from entrepreneur Bob Ferrell.

"Find out what the customer wants and make sure they get it," Ferrell says. McCrory should take that advice to heart.

Around the world, McCrory and the legislative leadership are hearing from their customers. They aren't happy, and they are very specific about why. But North Carolina's leaders blame the customer. It's time our leaders decided, as Skvarla advised his DENR employees, to "give 'em the pickle."

The first step would be for McCrory to call the General Assembly back into session and either repeal HB2 or delay its activation pending extensive hearings and fact-finding.

McCrory should make it his personal mission to travel to Silicon Valley, New York, Austin, Boston and anyplace else where there are businesses looking to come to North Carolina -- or those that McCrory would like to recruit. He should hold a listening tour around North Carolina -- particularly in the urban centers that are sustaining the state's growth -- and listen to local leaders about what they need to build their communities and grow their economies.

In a very public way -- maybe even invite members of the news media to accompany him -- he should confess that he and the legislature acted precipitously. He should tell the business leaders that it is his job to try to serve their interests, not the other way around. He should find out:

  • What are their business concerns and needs?
  • What can North Carolina can do to meet those needs?
  • What is North Carolina doing today that keeps you from coming to the state?

He may even discover that low taxes and low wages aren’t even near the top of their lists.

Whatever it is McCrory is doing now isn't working. Continuing on the current course will further damage the state and its opportunities to grow and prosper. He needs to stop, call a time out and end the lecturing.

After reaching out and listening, he should develop a thoughtful set of proposals to repair North Carolina's brand and rebuild its business environment.