RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – It’s like a recurring bad dream at this point.
On Thursday morning, news broke that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had picked Kansas City, not RTP, as home for two of its main departments.
And just like that, like Amazon and Apple before, dreams of hundreds of jobs pouring into the city disappeared, and we’re left licking our wounds.
Shortly after the announcement, WRAL TechWire reached out to Michael Haley, head of economic development for Wake County, for comment. In May, he had called the potential win a “transformational” project for the region. Today, however, his office quickly referred all inquiries to North Carolina’s Department of Commerce (DC).
Beth Ann Gargan, DC’s deputy secretary for Communications & External Affairs, expressed some disappointment. However, she mainly offered a positive spin on the news.
“We feel good that we were in the top three,” she said.
It also shined the national spotlight on the region as a agribusiness hub, she said. “Such recognition will boost our efforts to recruit new players to our state’s agriculture and agribusiness industry, which already has a nearly $92 billion annual economic impact and employs 728,000 people,” she said.
And she’s right. Despite some big losses, the region as a whole is holding strong. As previously reported, in the last 18 months or so, Wake County has quietly added more than 14,000 jobs, according to figures put together by the Raleigh Chamber of Commerce. It welcomed 50 new companies and saw 140 existing companies expand — a total investment of more than $727 million.
Not bad for a “loser.”
“For us as a market and as a region, it’s the type of growth we anticipate,” Haley told WRAL earlier.
Any incentives from NC?
Still, the big projects seem to evade us.
Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue toured the region as a potential site for the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). It promised to bring around 500 jobs with it.
But in the end, Kansas City won out after reportedly offering $26 million in tax and other incentives.
Gargan wouldn’t get into the nitty-gritty on negotiations, or whether or not North Carolina also offered its own package of incentives.
“You will have to file a public records request,” she said.
However, she did offer some details on how it all went down.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Commerce Department – which had been working with Governor Cooper’s office and Wake County Economic Development on the bid – received word that a high-ranking official from the USDA had organized a phone call with the governor for Thursday morning.
Around 7.45 a.m. today, she said the call presumably took place, notifying Governor Cooper that the USDA had passed on the Triangle.
Of course, there will now be plenty of time to debrief and “look at what positive happened,” she said.
But she remains hopeful. “Yes, we’re disappointed but there’s a lot of good that can come out of it.”