Editorial: Amazon & N.C. - a good fit legislature must size up

Posted September 12, 2017 5:00 a.m. EDT
Updated September 12, 2017 6:00 a.m. EDT

CBC Editorial: Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017; Editorial # 8211
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

Even among seasoned economic development professionals, the scale of Amazon’s HQ2 project – a second company headquarters – is astronomical.

The 50,000 new jobs would equal the combined employment of the 200 firms that now occupy the Research Triangle Park. The estimated 8 million square feet of space equals a third of space occupied by all the firms at RTP. The project’s $5 billion price tag is a fifth of ALL North Carolina’s state-funded spending.

By the criteria Amazon set out last week for its search to locate the second headquarters, it is not a stretch to visualize North Carolina – particularly the Triangle area – as a natural fit. A New York Times interactive visualization of top contenders put the Triangle Area in the top 10.

North Carolina in general and the Triangle specifically, have the kind of quality of life Amazon seeks: a diverse community; a variety of top recreational and educational opportunities and excellent institutions of higher education.

The area could, over the project’s 10-year timetable, provide the office space. The Research Triangle Park Foundation is already hard at work figuring it out.

The area has a highly educated and skilled workforce to fill jobs with a projected annual compensation of more than $100,000.

The Park Center project, a mix of residential and office sites, fits the profile Amazon seeks, said Michael Pittman, RTP Foundation vice president for marketing and communications. “The Park Center project would be perfect.”

Amazon’s specs also seek information on incentive programs available for the project at the state and local level – for land, tax credits, workforce grants and other needs. A project of this scale far exceeds the kinds of current incentive limits. Lawmakers need to rethink those limits and seize an opportunity that may not come our way again for years.”

A project the scale that Amazon is proposing could justify a large incentives package – particularly considering the benefits of adding 10s of thousands of high-wage earners to the state economy. It is an investment – not a give-away -- that comes with a return. Prudent investors look at each opportunity and assess the potential benefits and risks.

Additionally, the state rightly ties most of its incentives to performance. A company doesn’t get funding if it doesn’t produce the jobs promised.

But North Carolina is already handicapped -- not by the lack of incentives, but by politics. Commentators, locally and nationally, have been quick to point out the North Carolina legislature’s antipathy toward many high-tech ventures.

Many of these firms, such as Amazon, were vocal and in the forefront of condemning one of the pet projects of the legislature’s leadership – House Bill 2. The legislative leadership has been quick to blame these companies, not themselves, for the damaging blow to North Carolina’s reputation – not to mention the jobs missed and other hits to the state and local economies.

Legislators, including Senate Leader Phil Berger and Budget Chairman Sen. Harry Brown, personally sought to kill the $400 million Amazon wind farm project – a renewable energy project that has brought much-needed work and tax revenue to the financially-strapped northeastern part of the state.

The effort failed, though last-minute legislation imposed an 18-month moratorium on new wind projects.

What’s done is done. Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration has promised to “relentlessly pursue every opportunity.” The General Assembly should join in the effort to lure Amazon to North Carolina.

The General Assembly can seize the opportunity by making it clear they support the efforts of the governor and the Research Triangle Foundation – and will back them with legislation if needed, to meet the criteria Amazon has outlined.

It would be foolish and arrogant for legislative leaders to turn up their noses at this opportunity to bring thousands of high-paying jobs to the state.

This moment is unique; it is an opportunity for the legislative leaders to change their tune about Amazon. We’ll be listening for a more appealing chorus.

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