Daily Planet, 9/2015

When Volvo chose South Carolina as the site for its first U.S. assembly plant, I wondered why. I knew Governor McCrory wanted that plant for North Carolina more than he wanted a smarter lawyer.

So I put my research hat on, and there it was, at WTOC (Savannah) online:

“According to Volvo, they chose Berkeley County which is right outside of Charleston because of their access to ports, they have a well trained labor force, and have experience in the high tech manufacturing sector.”

Ow, ow, ow. That “well-trained workforce” really hurt.

Ports, OK. Charleston is way bigger than Wilmington, and they have experienced in handling BMWs.

But South Carolina praised for a well-trained workforce? Everybody knows it’s NORTH Carolina with the world-class schools, community colleges and universities.  Or they used to.

Our Republican governor and General Assembly bore us by beating the “business-friendly” bongo every time they cut taxes on the wealthy and corporations and cut regulations – and lay off another few thousand teacher assistants. It’s almost a religion with them. Companies are led around by their bottom lines and nothing else.

They’re wrong.

Several business media outlets publish rankings of states on their being a good place to do business. One is Forbes Magazine.

Let’s look at two states that Forbes lists in their Top Ten: North Carolina and Minnesota.

Minnesota’s blurb in Forbes says, in part:

“Minnesota cracks the top 10 for a second straight year based on a strong current economic climate and quality of life….Minnesota has the fourth highest percentage of adults with a high school degree at 92.4%. With its good schools, low poverty rate and healthy populous, the state ranks second overall on Forbes’ quality of life measurements.”

North Carolina’s reads, in part, like this:

“North Carolina has the smallest union workforce in the U.S. in terms of percent of total employment. The resulting benefit is labor costs that are 16% below the national average—third lowest in the country. North Carolina has ranked in the top five overall for 9 straight years.”

When they say, “labor costs that are 16% below the national average,” what exactly are they saying? Right: North Carolinians work cheap.

On the one hand, you have a state rated high for its well-educated population and quality of life. On the other hand, you have a state rated high because its people are poorly paid.

And by the way, Minnesota is rated #1 on CNBC’s list of best states to do business. (North Carolina is ranked #5.) CNBC notes: “To some degree, Minnesota benefits from a trend….Rather than just seeking the lowest taxes or the highest incentives, companies are increasingly chasing the largest supply of skilled, qualified workers.”

“Quality of life” sounds sort of squishy – something I’ll know when I feel it. But Forbes and CNBC put business meaning to it.

The Forbest quality of life index looks at the index of schools, health, crime, cost of living and poverty rate. Minnesota is specifically praised for funding highways.

I can’t help but look at Minnesota’s pluses and then look at the accomplishments of our Republican General Assembly in North Carolina. Schools?   They cut, cut, cut. Health? They refused the freeby Medicaid expansion. North Carolina is rated #31 on Forbes quality of life index – just ahead of Texas, for heaven’s sake.

So we have two competing strategies for attracting companies: education and quality of life versus low pay for workers and low taxes for corporations.

There’s another side to this coin: the people of North Carolina. We are the collateral damage of our General Assembly’s policy of school cuts, environment cuts and corporate tax cuts (mine went up).

North Carolina’s slide from greatness continues.