When the legislature opened a couple of weeks ago, Senate President Pro-tem Phil Berger delivered a speech touting the success of Republicans over the past 12 of power. He took credit for the economic growth in North Carolina and bragged that the GOP had changed the state. “Over the last 12 years and following the simple formula of lower taxes, less regulation, and a commitment to quality education, our state has flourished. North Carolina regularly ranks as a top state for business and jobs. We continue to recruit and attract a wide variety of employers and entrepreneurs to the state.”

In reality, North Carolina already ranked regularly as a top state for business and jobs before Republicans took over state government. We were already recruiting and attracting a wide range of employers and entrepreneurs. Republican policies on taxes and regulation had little to do with it. In fact, North Carolina grew more slowly during the decade that Republicans took control than it did the previous decade when Democrats were in power

As for their commitment to quality education, that’s a pretty laughable claim. Our teachers are among the lowest paid in the nation. Our per pupil spending has dropped to embarrassing lows. Our test scores have fallen. The politicization of our university system has caused researchers to leave and we’ll never know how many professors decided against coming to a university system in such turmoil. The university system has survived without more damage because of the stellar and solid reputation built under Democratic leadership over the previous 50 years, but continued interference from legislators could break it still. 

In the wake of HB 2, North Carolina lost millions, and possibly billions of dollars in business. The NBA pulled the All Star game from Charlotte. PayPal canceled a planned expansion in the state. Again, we’ll never know how many companies bypassed North Carolina because of legislation like HB2 and discriminatory bills that garnered national attention. The election of Roy Cooper governor gave companies reassurances that the state was not totally moving into the dark ages. Cooper and his moderate approach to governing attracted more companies than the GOP legislature scared away. 

The Republican belief that taxes and regulations are the overriding factors in businesses deciding where to locate is outdated. Today, with steep, international competition for qualified employees, businesses also want states that welcome a younger and diverse workforce. They want good schools and universities because infrastructure is no longer just roads, water, and sewer. Science and technology is by far the fastest growing sector in the state.

Under Democrats, North Carolina was always considered a business friendly state. Taxes were low enough to attract the top companies to the state and the start-up environment was one of the best in the country. However, we were also considered a leader in education. We had steadily improving K-12 schools and what was generally considered one of the top university systems in the nation. We also had one of the best community college systems. The combination made the state attractive for top industries. 

Republicans seem to have moderated a bit from their fire breathing early days controlling the legislature, but we’re not out of the woods yet. The GOP seems poised to nominate Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson as their gubernatorial candidate. Robinson’s extremism would almost certainly put a damper on our industrial recruitment efforts. His hateful and divisive rhetoric would discourage companies and there would be no check on the worst instincts of the GOP legislature dominated by MAGA-type Republicans. A GOP-controlled legislature and Robinson administration could set us back 20 years.

North Carolina’s economy has flourished in spite of Republicans, not because of them. Our national reputation, though, has taken a hit. We’re no longer seen as welcoming and forward thinking. We’re viewed with caution by the rest of the country. Businesses decide to come here as much for our central location, our moderate climate, our access to ports and airports, our good roads, our university and community college systems, and our progressive New South cities as they do for taxes and regulations. 

We have stark and important decisions to make about North Carolina’s future this coming decade. We can either build on our natural advantages and our historic investments in education with welcoming policies that embrace inclusion and individual freedom, or we can move backward by ceding control to people who see diversity as a weakness, not a strength. The decision to build North Carolina into a modern economic powerhouse beginning in the 1950s depended on forward thinking leadership. Had the mentality embodied by Republicans controlled North Carolina for those 50 years, we would be more like Mississippi or Alabama today. That’s certainly not where we need to go.


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