The air went out of the tire on Thursday afternoon for North Carolina economic officials when Continental Tire, a German company, announced it would build a plant in Sumter, S.C., which will benefit from up to 1,600 jobs that will be created by the $1 billion investment.
Up until the week before last, the Mid-Atlantic Logistics Center near the border of Brunswick and Columbus counties appeared poised to win the prize, but that didn’t happen, which led to finger-pointing between Republicans and Democrats trying to affix the blame. Actually, the finger-pointing began earlier than that, and there is every reason to believe that at least greased the decision for Continental Tire to head south.
Some Republican leaders, in an apparent effort to soil Gov. Bev. Perdue, pointed out that the Brunswick County land was owned by a group that includes a Democratic senator, Michael Walters of Robeson County, and key contributors to Perdue’s campaign chest, including a member of the Golden LEAF Foundation with ties to Robeson County.
Associated Press writer Gary Robertson wrote about the situation, and pointed out that Walters had recused himself from any legislative involvement in trying to lure the plant, and the Golden LEAF representative had told the head of that organization, Dan Gerlach, that if Golden LEAF grant money were to be considered as part of an incentives package, that he would not participate in the discussions.
But the implication was clear: Perdue was taking care of her buddies so they would take care of her during her re-election bid.
Perdue said then that Continental Tire, and not state officials, had picked Brunswick County as a potential site —a location near enough this county that we are sure hundreds of Robesonians could have found employment there.
After the announcement on Thursday that Sumter was the winner, Democrats launched a counter-offensive, blaming Republicans for politicizing the recruitment of the industry, and saying that soured Continental Tire on the Brunswick County site. They also said that the Republican-led General Assembly didn’t offer a sweet enough pie, and that South Carolina won at least in part because of a fatter incentives package.
Said Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco: “Gov. Perdue and I worked aggressively, over a period of several months, to try to convince the General Assembly to enact a package that would succeed in bringing these … jobs to Brunswick County. Ultimately, the leadership in the North Carolina Senate was unwilling to do what was required to bring these jobs here.”
Republicans countered by saying that “pay-to-play” politics and “cronyism” drove the tire company away.
We will leave it to you to assign blame in the proportions you prefer.
But what is clear is that lawmakers in a state with double-digit unemployment swung and missed on an industry that would have improved the plight of thousands of North Carolinians directly, and tens of thousands more indirectly.
There is no shortage of political footballs to toss around. Playing games with industrial recruitment should be out of bounds.