Paul Fogleman,

Voices from each of the two North Carolinas were heard loud and clear in the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday. The most prominent came from N.C. Senator Harry Brown, author of a bill that would require more state funds for business recruiting and support be directed at rural counties in the state’s poorest regions. Almost 90 percent of state grants to new or expanding businesses have gone to two counties—Wake and Mecklenburg. Sen. Brown argued that more efforts need to be directed toward selling troubled counties which are losing populations. His bill SB660 would require this. Sen. Joel Ford of Mecklenburg insisted the bill could discriminate against the state’s larger counties where voters have approved higher taxes and bond issues for popular attractions and infrastructure improvements. “If some these counties (in stressed areas) got 15 percent of the state’s sales taxes maybe they could afford to issue bonds,” Brown shot back.

The state budget includes $14 million for JDIG grants to new or expanding businesses. Brown said this could be raised if the market demanded it.

Sen. Andy Wells of Hickory concluded that recruiters prefer to focus on Wake and Mecklenburg counties which “are easier sells.” Other senators said that businesses will not locate in areas “where their employees do not want to go.” The lack of shopping attractions, and entertainment were cited as issues for rural areas.

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