RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – When a sharply divided political leadership of North Carolina issues a joint statement about anything, you know that they have been devastated by something. A hurricane, for example. And Apple’s decision not to build a new corporate campus in RTP.

Yet that is exactly what Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, and the Republican leadership of the General Assembly did Thursday hours after Apple’s decision to build in Austin, Texas, and add thousands of jobs elsewhere. North Carolina ended up with nothing – at least for now.

WRAL’s Travis Fain reported:

Cooper, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger issued a joint statement … extolling North Carolina’s qualities and other corporate recruitment efforts, but giving no information on why Apple went another way.

“We’re on pace to add thousands of good-paying jobs this year with more expected next year,” the trio said in their statement. “There’s no better place to find a top-tier IT workforce and legislative leaders have worked closely with the administration to attract large employers and technology companies like Apple. We’ll keep doing everything we can to bring more good jobs to North Carolina.”

Apple’s ‘monumental deal’ goes against Triangle – for now

The Apple decision is the latest in a series of rebuffs:

Amazon taking HQ2 and its 50,000 jobs to big cities New York and Washington, D.C.

The Army’s choice of Austin for a new headquarters rather than NCSU’s Centennial Campus.

And the state’s repeated failures in landing an auto plant.

So the big question that has to be addressed:

Why can’t North Carolina win the “big one”?

Especially Apple.

Apple’s decision to bypass the Triangle and North Carolina for a major expansion rocked officials at the state and local level who were convinced that the state had won a new corporate campus, an expansion of Apple’s data operation in the western part of the state, thousands of jobs and around $2 billion in investment.

“This is where Apple belongs,” said a stunned Wake County Commissioner Sig Hutchinson. “The Triangle is perfect for Apple – our talent, our environment … Show some love for us Apple!”

Other officials told WRAL’s reporters at the General Assembly that they felt the deal was done. The governor didn’t go that far but he obviously was distressed and said he wanted to talk to the company about the decision.

Then came the statement.

Apple to build campus in Texas; NC not on expansion list

We may never know, frankly, why CEO Tim Cook (a Duke graduate) bypassed North Carolina. Apple is very secretive about its intentions and disclosed its Austin move in a 4 a.m. press release – no media extravaganza.

Plus, site negotiators are bound by a tight non-disclosure agreement. Anything they say might be used against them. And leaks about Apple’s intentions not only upset Apple but angered many officials involved.

Was it money?

The Austin American-Statesman says Apple will get $25 million from the state and tens of millions in property tax savings.

North Carolina most likely offered A LOT MORE if public records disclosures about Amazon HQ2 negotiations are any indication. The state was willing to invest $2 billion in tax rebates for 50,000 jobs.

So Apple could have expected $500 million for 10,000 jobs.

Wake County, Raleigh, Durham, Chatham County were willing to add to the Amazon incentives.

Chase for talent pushes tech giants far beyond West Coast

What did Wake County and Research Triangle Foundation, which runs RTP, offer Apple in terms of property tax abatement on that RTP section of land that reportedly was where Apple would build the campus?

Plus, the General Assembly reworked state incentives in the spring reportedly just for Apple.

And a recent revision allows the state to offer even bigger rebates for high-paying jobs.

North Carolina has more than once reworked its incentives package to land a “transformative” project such as an auto plant, too. Yet no victories.

So what other factors could come into play?

The politics of HB2 and other issues has hurt the state with some job projects. Yet an Apple deal reportedly was in the final stages of negotiation.

And Texas is more conservative a state than North Carolina. So …

What else?

Size? Not really. The Raleigh-Durham metro is nearly identical to Austin.

Lack of talent?

That could be a big one. Wake Tech offered a lot of job training in the Amazon package, for example.

North Carolina’s unemployment is already well under 4 percent, so fewer people are seeking work.

Also, Apple surely knows that there are more than 20,000 open information technology jobs across the state right now, according to the North Carolina Technology Association.

Is it lack of mass transit?

A plan is coming and likely will be built over the next several years, so any tech company coming to the Triangle could expect light rail at least as it scaled up operations to accommodate thousands of jobs.

Is it taxes? Environment? Education? Business-friendly regulations?

Forbes answered those points by declaring recently that North Carolina is the best state for business.

So what now?

Hopefully the Cooper-GOP joint statement is a sign that elected officials will gather with economic recruiters and others to review what’s happened and the reasons why.

Perhaps a new strategy will be developed. That seems obvious.

Apple graphic

Where Apple will have employees by 2022.

North Carolina to its credit continues to land other expansions, from Pendo’s addition of 600 jobs in Raleigh to a new headquarters and an HQ expansion in Charlotte to the new Amazon facility in Garner and continuing growth at the life science hub in Johnston County and points east.

But the “big one” eludes the state. And those projects are the ones that generate headlines in the US as around the world, attracting more attention and, possibly, more deals.

Apple is especially damaging in the sense that officials wanted the “brand.” They wanted the jobs, of course, but to put an Apple logo on marketing and promotion would have meant so much.

In a sense, an Apple campus would “make” the Triangle as a tech hub.

Those hopes will have to wait for a while. So now is the time to try to figure out what the heck happened.