Apr 19, 2024 - News

Governor's contest includes differing opinions on economic incentives

Photo illustration of Mark Robinson and Josh Stein.

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals; Photos: Drew Angerer and Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

For more than 20 years, North Carolina has wielded its incentives program to grow its economy and lure corporate expansions to the state — from large-scale manufacturers such as Toyota to tech companies like Apple.

  • But this year's gubernatorial election will be a contest between candidates with differing views on the tool.

Why it matters: The governor is in charge of appointing the state's commerce secretary and a majority of the Economic Investment Committee, which decides whether the state extends incentives to a company.

Between the lines: Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, the Republican gubernatorial nominee, has for years said he's not a fan of the program. In 2020, he said the state shouldn't offer incentives. In 2022, he referred to incentives as "bribing."

  • Robinson has not called for the elimination of incentives programs but has been clear he is not in favor of them.

The other side: Josh Stein, the state's attorney general and Democratic candidate for governor, said in a statement that he supports the use of "performance-based incentives" in North Carolina.

State of play: Many companies these days fail to meet the hiring or investment pledges outlined in their incentives deals with the state, according to a News & Observer analysis.

  • But state incentives are only paid out once a company meets its agreed-upon hiring or investment goals.
  • In addition to the Commerce Department's incentives, the Republican-controlled General Assembly has rolled out its own incentive efforts in recent years on projects like Toyota's expansion in Randolph County and VinFast's in Chatham County.

When North Carolina celebrated its economic ties with Japan this month, the Japanese prime minister's tour included two sites that had both received state incentives — Toyota and Honda Aircraft in Greensboro.

What they're saying: "The lieutenant governor's position hasn't changed" on incentives, Michael Lonergan, a spokesperson for the Robinson campaign, said in an email.

  • "While he understands that North Carolina's incentives can be an effective tool when used properly, he believes that the foundation of keeping our economy strong is maintaining the conservative fiscal policies that have made our state the best place to do business," Lonergan said in an email.
  • Cutting taxes and reducing spending are among Robingon's priorities for the state, he added.

Stein cited CNBC's ranking of North Carolina as the best state for business two years in a row — but added that "future success is not a given."

  • "As governor, I will work to invest in our workforce to grow existing businesses and attract new jobs to our state."
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