RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – After another banner headline in The News & Observer, reports on WRAL TV and detailed stories in The News Topic in Lenoir about the recruiting process for Google’s $600 million server farm, the General Assembly and other folks in Raleigh are getting concerned.

WRAL’s Cullen Browder reported Thursday about rumbling on Jones Street. And The N&O is back with another heavily played story today about Senate Leader Marc Basnight’s discomfort.

Good. The more debate about the issue the better.

However, the issue is bigger than whether Google was heavy handed in its dealing with state and local officials – and whether the incentive package was too expensive for what economically hard-hit Lenoir and Caldwell County will receive in return.

Rather, the major debate ought to be about how North Carolina can play the economic incentive game better and smarter.

Businesses looking to expand or to cut costs by moving to new locations have the upper hand in cutting deals. Google’s victory clearly proves that.

Durham County and North Carolina managed to keep Quintiles from relocating its entire headquarters out of state. But it was a close call.

The state’s Commerce Department is meeting again on Friday morning, possibly to discuss another deal. Rumblings about a possible Toyota vehicle assembly plant and a plant to build new Honda jets are making the rounds. Rolls Royce, meanwhile, has mentioned North Carolina as a possible future location for a plant.

To their credit, North Carolina’s political leaders at local, county and state levels are competing hard at the recruiting game. They have no choice. If they don’t compete, companies simply will go somewhere else.

William Amelio, Lenovo’s chief executive officer, was quite clear in his remarks at the Emerging Issues Forum last week at North Carolina State University. No company in these days of a “flattened” world can be taken for granted.

The Google debate will be a good one for North Carolina. But the bottom line is not whether to offer incentives. It’s how to best package them.

Businesses have the best hands in this high-stake economics poker games, and N.C. can’t just rely on luck, praying to draw an inside straight to win deals. Our leaders have to be smart – and armed with the weapons needed to win in the best way for both sides, business and local citizens who need jobs to drive local economies and thus the state’s.

Simply saying N.C. won’t play the recruiting game is not an option. That’s sure to be a losing hand.