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Charlotte Area News

NC, Charlotte try to lure new businesses; Incentives a given

Several dozen people known as "site selectors" are in Charlotte this week driving race cars and golfing on a VIP tour of the region. Companies hire site selectors to help them decide where to relocate or expand. Governor Bev Perdue made them a promise Monday morning. "I will have any kind of discussion with you about what it takes to bring your clients here, even for a look," said Perdue. "I will try to match any incentive package in the country. We want your people to look at North Carolina." Economic incentives have becoming increasingly controversial of late as state and local governments face budget shortfalls and need all the tax revenues they can muster to keep basic services alive. Site selectors will tell you that a company's decision to relocate is never based solely on the size of the tax breaks a government is willing to offer. And yet, "I don't know that I've ever had a client make a decision without incentives" says Craig Fisher who works for Duff and Phelps in Chicago. Fisher also says he's had clients go with a state less incentives because it had other things to offer, like a prepared workforce, a better cost of living and good access to transportation. Governor Bev Perdue told reporters after her speech that offering tax breaks to companies is a necessary evil. "I hate incentives," said Perdue. "I wish none of the states would have them. But as long as other states have them this governor is going to compete with a full toolbox and that includes incentives. And I will do whatever I can do to bring those jobs to North Carolina as you all have seen in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg market over the last year. We've had some big wins and every one of those big wins has been finalized by capping of incentives." One of the biggest "wins" for Charlotte was the announcement last month that energy company Siemens will expand and add more than 800 jobs. If it makes good on that promise, the company will collect more than $30 million in tax breaks and grants. Site selectors say North Carolina's economic incentives are more conservative than some states like South Carolina. In the last year, at least half a dozen companies in the Charlotte region have moved just across the state line to take advantage of those incentives. "Yeah that's very frustrating," says Russ Smitley who works for Aberdeen Carolina and Western Railway. He recently helped convince Cargill to move to a spot on the railroad in Cabarrus County. But just as often, he says South Carolina wins the competition. Smitley partly blames the Charlotte Regional Partnership which considers Lancaster and York County in South Carolina as part of the region and actively recruits companies there as well as Mecklenburg County. "I don't think that's right," says Smitley. "I don't think we should be supporting business in South Carolina. I mean it's hard enough to get businesses here without having a partnership say we've got this industrial complex down here that we want to support." The Charlotte Regional Partnership argues that any company coming to the Charlotte region, whether in North or South Carolina, brings jobs and sales tax revenues that are good for the local economy. As for this week's wining and dining of site selectors, the Department of Commerce says the event in Charlotte is being paid for by private contributions.