“North Carolina and Texas grab hold of the first Prosperity Cup. They’re not likely to let go without a fight.” by Site Selection Magazine
“Ask any CEO or any athlete: The truest test of competitiveness is finding out how you respond to a challenge.
Today, Texas is confronting an energy sector downturn that has meant thousands of job losses, even as projects from so many other sectors keep landing there. In North Carolina, the downturn takes the form of a widely shared frown, as newly passed legislation many view as discriminatory to the LGBT community has caused major company project cancellations, event pullouts and boycotts of the state.
But if any territories are built to withstand such storms, these two are. In the analysis for Site Selection’s annual Prosperity Cup (formerly named the Competitiveness Award), Texas and North Carolina finish in a tie for No. 1, based on an index of 10 criteria that measure corporate project activity and business climate attractiveness.
What do both states’ economic development portfolios have in common? The same things any investment portfolio would: Breadth, depth and economic diversity.
“There’s a strong case here that because of the data saying North Carolina is a great place, its reputation is going to withstand the storm,” says Leonard Ponzi, managing partner of ReputationInc. and former managing partner of the Reputation Institute. (No, no relation to the infamous Charles Ponzi of the eponymous scheme, he says, acknowledging the irony of his chosen métier.) At the same time, it’s up to North Carolina to address the issues. “Stakeholders just want to have a clear position,” he says.
The state’s position of strength is clear enough, most recently bolstered by a AAA bond rating and record venture capital numbers. North Carolina Commerce Secretary John Skvarla responded by email in April to questions from Site Selection:
Site Selection Managing Editor Adam Bruns: Describe the level of concern, project delays and conversation that the social legislation has sparked with existing and prospect companies looking to grow in North Carolina. What are hearing from foreign company leaders in particular, and what are your team’s chief talking points in these conversations?
Secretary of Commerce John E. Skvarla, III: Any time the state is mentioned in national news stories where some issue is under debate, company executives are naturally curious, so the number of conversations we’ve had recently has increased due to the media attention. But maintaining dialogue with company leaders is something we do all of the time, sharing facts and explaining our programs and recent legislation. In this case, we’ve found company leaders really don’t know what’s in the law, only misunderstood bits and pieces they’ve seen in the media. I don’t find much difference between foreign and domestic leaders in this regard.
“It’s our can-do attitude that shines through. That’s an intangible companies notice about our workforce and mention often.”
— North Carolina Secretary of Commerce John E. Skvarla, III
The key and most unrealized fact is that in North Carolina private companies can make any rules and accommodations that they deem appropriate for their organization. There is no over-reach by the state into their human resource functions. We also remind people of the long and successful track records of the companies that call North Carolina home, companies that have built their success in partnership with the warm and welcoming people of our state.
Bruns: When you speak to corporate leaders of companies that have recently announced projects, which factor do they most often cite as critical to their investment decision?
Skvarla: The key factor often comes down to North Carolina’s talented and skilled workers. Interestingly enough, in many ways it’s not just their specific skills, or the fact North Carolina workers have the nation’s best customized training programs to keep them sharp — it’s our can-do attitude that shines through. That’s an intangible companies notice about our workforce and mention often.”
Bruns: What do you view as the most innovative aspects of NC’s economic development portfolio today?
Skvarla: We have several innovative things underway that will make a real impact. To speed major site development for large industrial projects, we have reserved up to $35 million over the next three years to meet public infrastructure needs at qualifying locations, thanks to a collaboration between the GoldenLEAF Foundation and the Rural Infrastructure Authority, which is supported by my team at North Carolina Commerce.
Another initiative is our Innovation to Jobs program, which includes a Venture Multiplier fund of $40 million to support technology transfers. Finally, we’re fundamentally rethinking how we utilize the state’s assets to generate income, particularly our underutilized real estate assets. We call this Project Phoenix, and it will create thousands of construction, engineering, architecture, logistics and finance jobs over the coming years.” excerpts from the Site Selection Magazine.