Note: This column reflects the personal views of WRAL TechWire Editor Rick Smith and do not necessarily reflect those of the management of Capitol Broadcasting Corporation, the parent of WTW.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Volvo’s decision to build a $500 million vehicle manufacturing plant in South Carolina not too far from a Boeing aircraft assembly plant and across the state for a booming auto-related corridor near Greenville is just another slap in the face for the future of economic growth in North Carolina.

As our state’s battle over incentives – and let’s not forget crowdfunding for startups – drags on, North Carolina’s rivals cash in.

So even though CEOs in a new survey say they like N.C., does the General Assembly like CEOs?

  • Incentives update: Developers lobby for expansion of incentives.

Based on the Volvo news and the divided house that is Republican leadership in this state, one has to question why in a recent survey would chief executive officers still like the state so much.

In a survey released ironically enough only recently, Chief Executive magazine reported that North Carolina rose to No. 3 on its “Best & Worst States To Do Business” survey of CEOs from No. 4 in 2014. Texas and Florida lead the way.

Believe this or not: South Carolina fell five spots to No. 10 from No. 5.

Yet South Carolina nailed the Volvo deal, offering a whopping $200 million in incentives.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory went after Volvo with a largely bare cupboard because General Assembly leaders of his own party (especially in the Senate) refuse to endorse the aggressive incentives McCrory wants to be able to offer.

Who ever said herding Republican “cats” would be any easier than Democratic “cats”?

One-party rule didn’t necessarily make life easy for former governors Bev Perdue and Mike Easley, either. But as The News and Observer’s J. Andrew Curliss pointed out in a great “Dome” column on Sunday, in 2004 politicos found enough unanimity to back a huge deal for a Dell PC plant. When Dell chose to move its operations to Mexico, apparently a lot of politicos in this state lost the stomach for making a huge economic bet.

Former Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker told The N&O: “I believe very strongly that we had a shot at Volvo. I know that as we talked with them … our conversation always had a caveat of ‘legislative approval,’” she said. “I can tell you that other states, and South Carolina, didn’t have to say that … I can tell you with certainty – when I would have to say, ‘This is what North Carolina can offer ‘with legislative approval,’ it was not a positive conversation.”

Yes, land has been set aside for a big manufacturing facility. But where are the guts needed to make a deal?

S.C. builds, N.C. sits

The same argument holds true for the crowdfunding legislation that has wide bi-partisan support but hasn’t been passed for two years. (North Carolina already lost one crowdfunding startup to Georgia – GroundFloor. What entrepreneur will bolt next in search of a crowdfunding-friendly state?)

Two years!

In business – especially in high-value startups – two years is a lifetime.

How many more plants must North Carolina lose before the folks on Jones Street put aside self interests and realize that a big Volvo-like plant benefits a far wider geographic zone that just the county where it sits?

Look at the Greenville I-85 corridor, for the sake of the Tar Heel state future. And now Charleston.

$500 million in infrastructure; 4,000 really good jobs.

And how many businesses will sprout because of Volvo? (Look at Greenville, as in S.C.)

How much money has been invested in that air industry complex in Kinston? Who led the drive for the Global TransPark? Didn’t a lot of rural lawmakers want that place? Now how many of the same geographic areas are crying about “Job Development Investment Grants” (JDIGs) going to metro areas rather than rural?

As Charles Hayes wrote in an opinion piece published by WTW, JDIGs do deliver jobs in rural areas.

Big employers draw talented workers from wide areas.

How many people in Pittsboro, for example commute to RTP? Or to RTP from Smithfield? (Check out the morning and evening traffic on clogged I-40 if you want proof.)

The CEO survey

Yet despite the incentive and crowdfunding debates, CEOs still like the state.

“This southeastern state continues to leapfrog others in new job growth, and dominates the south in areas such as laptop exports and agriculture, where tobacco is still the state’s leading grown product,” Chief Executive pointed out.

According to CEOs, the survey results “clearly show that CEOs favor states that foster growth through progressive business development programs, low taxes and a quality living environment.”

Progressive business development programs – here, now?

Let’s see what CEOs say a year from now.

And how will South Carolina rank?

The payoff

Yes, WRAL has reported in great detail about how many times JDIGs have not paid off in the promised number of jobs. But companies either are required to pay back incentives received (such as Dell) or they don’t get any money because they didn’t hit investment and job targets.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

No risks taken, no benefits reaped.

Nothing sewn, nothing grown.

The N&O’s Sunday Dome has an impressive list of economic development projects North Carolina failed to get.

So does North Carolina have to be prudent and make sure tax benefits are offered wisely? Of course.

Should there be “claw backs” with teeth? Absolutely.

So what happens next?

The General Assembly and the Governor’s administration need to finally settle on a strategy and get in the game. Economic incentives are a nation-wide game that North Carolina must be competitive in or the state will suffer.

What ever happened to the private-public sector shared vision that built Research Triangle Park?

Will such leaders ever emerge again?

(Read more about the CEO survey at: