LUMBERTON — Conservative yet progressive financial practices since 2013 are paying off big for North Carolina, according to the state’s budget director.
Andrew Heath, state budget director since February and the former chairman of the North Carolina Industrial Commission, told members of the Lumberton Rotary Club on Tuesday that North Carolina’s economy is strong and continuing to grow under financial policies led by the administration of Gov. Pat McCrory, who is up for re-election in November, and the Republican-controlled General Assembly.
He delivered the news on the day that the state reported the unemployment rate dropped to 4.6 percent, the lowest it has been since April 2007. The national rate is 4.9 percent.
Heath said he has been on an informational tour of North Carolina.
“I’ve been trying to get out of Raleigh to tell people how money is being spent and get their feedback,” Heath said. “If I get similar concerns or questions raised in different places, I know it’s something we need to look at.”
For about 20 minutes, Heath presented statistics and explained the state’s $22.3 billion budget for fiscal year 2016-2017. The budget, he said, was developed based on “financial responsibility” and with the goal of providing a middle class tax cut, teacher pay that would for the first time average $50,000 a year, affordable college and more support for mental health and substance abuse programs.
Heath said that Robeson County is doing well when it comes to economic growth and job creation. This trend, boosted by the Connect N.C. bond referendum approved by voters earlier this year, will continue, according to Heath.
“Robeson County is doing well,” he said. “Just look at the county’s unemployment rate that has been cut almost in half, from 13.9 percent in 2013 to 7.2 percent today.”
Heath pointed to other signs that Robeson County’s economy is becoming stronger, including the $94,000 budgeted by the state for downtown revitalization in Lumberton as well as the arrival of the Sanderson Farms chicken processing plant in St. Pauls and hatchery in Lumberton — a $139 million investment expected to create 1,100 new jobs.
Heath said the investments being made in Robeson County with the recently approved bond money include: $23 million for a business school at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke; $7.3 million for Robeson Community College; and $2.5 million for Lumber River State Park.
College is now also going to be more affordable for Robeson County students, the budget director said. There is a tuition freeze in place at all UNC system institutions, fee increases have been capped at 3 percent annually, and tuition is $500 per semester for in-state students attending UNCP, Elizabeth City State University and Western Carolina University beginning in 2017.
Heath told Rotary Club members that state efforts to create a favorable business climate appears to be working. He cited numerous sources giving North Carolina high business climate rankings, including No. 1 for business competitiveness from Site Selection Magazine; second best state for business from Forbes Magazine; third best state for business by CEOs, Chief Executive Magazine; and top state for business from CNBC.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.