“I see ‘Iowa Builds Momentum’ ” – Iowa Gov. Chet Culver

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — Just as more people in North Carolina call for changes in tax incentives to lure industry to the state, Iowa will soon be home for a new IBM facility.

Wouldn’t it have been nice if IBM had chosen to expand its largest campus of some 11,000 people in RTP with this new center rather than preparing to make more layoffs, as sources are reporting?

Iowa as a center for the high-tech industry? Yep. The land of farms, cattle and the Iowa caucuses landed another major high-tech project Thursday when Big Blue announced it would build a facility in Dubuque and create 1,300 jobs. Iowa also recently has landed projects from Microsoft and Google.

The Big Blue decision “comes at a price,” however, as the Des Moines Register noted:

One opponent of incentives in Iowa acknowledged that “it’s war” when economic development projects are at stake.

And let us not forget that Kansas bested North Carolina (and other states) for the new national Bio-Agro Defense Lab.

North Carolina’s latest win, meanwhile, is for a call center in Hickory with a Georgia-based startup – yes, startup – eligible to get more than $6 million.

Economic development is going to be a major challenge for the new Perdue administration, especially with longtime Commerce Secretary Jim Fain departing. A slowing economy makes the competition for new projects more intense.

So how does North Carolina proceed? Brent Lane, a veteran economic development exec with experience on the investment side of business as well, spelled out some ideas in a study from the North Carolina Center for Competitive Economies earlier this week.

The report calls for a cut in the state’s corporate tax rate to 6.5 percent from 6.9 percent and the use of research and development tax credits and cash grants for firms that meet certain standards. These incentives, Lane said, would be more effective than credits for jobs created and the purchase of plant machinery.

North Carolina offers a variety of incentives at the state level, including One North Carolina Fund grants that require a local match and Job Development Investment Grants that rebate state withholding taxes to employers if job-creation criteria are met. Local governments chip in with property tax cuts, rebates and land deals.

Each time a deal is done, critics scream and file lawsuits. But North Carolina is caught in a bloodthirsty battle for new jobs, as the Iowa-IBM deal demonstrates.

According to the Register, IBM is likely to receive a $12 million “forgivable loan” and some $2 million in tax incentives from the state.

Local incentives include a $25 million “break” on leasing costs for a “Depression-era building” in Dubuque plus $5.6 million in “assistance” from the city.

IBM also will get more than $8 million in worker-training assistance from a local community college.

And what kind of jobs did Iowa win? Tech support, with average salaries of around $45,000.

Did Iowa pay too much? Well, another 1,300 jobs in North Carolina would look pretty good right now. By the way, Iowa’s unemployment rate happens to be a lot better than that of the Tar Heel state – 4 percent vs. 7 percent.