RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C – What price should North Carolina pay for Google?

State and local leaders apparently are convinced it should be astronomical.

Following recent disclosures about a big land buy near Lenoir in Caldwell County and the state offering a big $4.7 million grant, more details of what the search engine giant is being offered are coming to light. And the price is staggering.

Jonathan Cox, a reporter for The News & Observer in Raleigh, spells out in great detail in Tuesday’s editions what is on the table: More than $100 million in tax benefits over the next 30 years.

All this for a couple hundred jobs and a $600 million Web server farm facility – on which Google will get a huge tax break should it choose to build in the Tar Heel state.

I am in favor of economic growth, especially when recruiting efforts bring in high-tech, high-salaried jobs. But the Google package simply seems staggering for what Lenoir, Caldwell County and the state would receive in return.

However, it also is clear that North Carolina has no choice but to go for the Google gold, so to speak.

Caldwell County has been hammered by job losses with furniture plants disappearing faster than key characters on “24”. Even if Google chooses to build in Lenoir, how many local folks would be hired to work there? But to have a chance to be trained and to get a $48,000 a year job or better certainly beats unemployment or flipping burgers.

Duke Energy and the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission have already done a lot of the spade work, buying 150 acres of land to house the facility.

While the Google package is far less than the $280 million incentive package put together to land Dell’s manufacturing facility in Winston-Salem, it also would produce far fewer jobs. And just how many related jobs would be created by the cottage industry that would be required to service a server farm vs. one of the world’s largest PC and server manufacturing centers? The economic folks studying the project believe there will be enough to justify the investment.

Then there is the competitive factor.

As the Charleston, S.C. and Raleigh newspapers have documented, South Carolina and North Carolina are battling each other to land the Google facility. Perhaps N.C.’s leadership has decided it simply can’t afford to lose to S.C. on this venture as it did when BMW chose Greenville, S.C. for its auto assembly plant. Anyone driving that Greenville-Spartanburg corridor on Interstate 85 can see the impact of that decision.

The N&O also noted last week North Carolina is in the running for a new auto assembly plant from Toyota. And to their credit, both leaders in Gov. Mike Easley’s administration and the General Assembly have stepped forward with aggressive grants and legislation designed to increase industrial recruitment.

Those efforts have paid off handsomely, especially in the Triangle with a new Novartis vaccine plant, new facilities from Fidelity and Merck, and Quintiles’ decision to remain in Durham and add jobs rather than relocate to Kansas City.

In Kannapolis, an entirely new biotech center is being built, with the state, local and county officials as well as the University of North Carolina system and Duke University partnering with Dole Food billionaire David Murdock.

Now Google is on the target list. Should North Carolina win the bidding war, adding a marquee name like Google to the roster of companies doing business here can only enhance the state’s appeal to other high-tech firms.

North Carolina has no choice. It’s Google – or God knows what – for Lenoir.

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