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NC official: Japanese trip will pay dividends

September 22, 2014

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina’s top economic development official said Monday that her recent trip to Japan should pay dividends as her department aggressively tries to land a foreign automaker and other manufacturers to the state.

Department of Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker visited Japan last week where she and other agency officials met with business interests.

At a news conference, Decker did not disclose details of the meetings — or even who she met with — but says she feels good about the state’s chances for an auto plant that would employ up to 5,000 people.

Decker said the state is currently in multiple conversations with automakers in Asia and Europe.

She said the companies have told her they plan to build new plants in the United States within the next three to five years because of the rebounding economy.

North Carolina has assembled three potential sites — each with 1,200 acres — for a large manufacturer.

“There are a number of the conversations that hold the potential for announcements,” she said, adding “I feel very good about the prospects. This is a long term kind of process.”

North Carolina business recruiters earlier this year offered Toyota more than $100 million in incentives for the world’s largest carmaker to move its North American headquarters to Charlotte rather than a Dallas suburb.

But the state lost out to Texas, which had made an offer half the size of North Carolina’s incentives package. Texas benefited from other factors — the state has no corporate or income tax — and has direct flights to Tokyo.

Toyota executives travel to and from Asia hundreds of times a year. Charlotte Douglas International Airport has no direct flights to Asia.

Decker noted that it took her 36 hours to get back to North Carolina.

“I came back very motivated for us to get direct flights to Asia. If we are going to attract large Asian companies to North Carolina, then direct flights will matter,” she said.

Decker said the state faces another possible economic development challenge: the state’s Job Development Investment Grant program is nearing a cap on potential awards to companies promising new jobs.

“I would say it is creating a lot more conversation,” she said. “Folks want to know that if they come in there is opportunity for the Job Development Investment Grant.”

Business boosters have pushed Gov. Pat McCrory to call back the General Assembly to consider expanded incentives that weren’t approved by lawmakers this year. That includes a $20 million “Job Catalyst Fund” of upfront taxpayer money that could be disbursed to selected corporations solely at Decker’s discretion.

Decker said McCrory has made it clear he would recall lawmakers if a significant opportunity develops.

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