Conn. Firm Lured To N.C. By 'Hungry Workforce'

fromWUNC

Some politicians across the country are getting crafty — trying to woo businesses to their states. But in North Carolina, it wasn't an elaborate government sales pitch that got a company in Connecticut interested in expansion. It was the state's high unemployment rate.

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Across the U.S., governments are trying every which way to coax businesses into relocating to their states. Tax breaks and subsidies are just a couple of the incentives they offer up. But in North Carolina, it was not an elaborate government sales pitch that got one company interested. It was something much more simple than that - the state's high unemployment.

North Carolina Public Radio's Jeff Tiberii reports.

JEFF TIBERII, BYLINE: Earlier this summer, Texas Governor Rick Perry launched an unconventional TV ad-campaign, urging companies to consider expanding in the Lone Star State.

(SOUNDBITE OF A POLITICAL AD)

GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: Why more jobs and businesses move to Texas than any other state.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Because we're leaders in technology.

PERRY: Texas, land of opportunity, home of creative renegades...

TIBERII: And last month, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo challenged New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to a whitewater rafting race. The governor was hoping to use the stunt to increase tourism and business outside of Manhattan.

Leaders in North Carolina didn't need to make any wagers or TV buys. Instead they lured a new manufacturing plant with tax incentives and a promise of a hungry, unemployed workforce.

LANCE METZLER: Two hundred jobs starting out all the way up to 500 jobs, is a pretty big deal to us.

TIBERII: Lance Metzler is county manager in Rockingham County, where there are about 90,000 residents and thousands without jobs. That was a key factor when Connecticut-based Sturm, Ruger and Company selected this rural area to expand its business.

METZLER: The unemployment rate is very low up there. Here, there's an abundance of people who are willing and ready to work. And I think that's one thing that they were intrigued about, is our availability of workforce.

TIBERII: The company has production plants in New Hampshire and Arizona. New Hampshire has an unemployment rate of about 5 percent. In Rockingham County it's twice that. At a job fair, this summer more than a thousand people submitted applications when they heard an unnamed gun company might be relocating.

HOLLY WADE: Certainly businesses are looking for areas that have the type of skilled labor that their business requires.

TIBERII: Holly Wade is a senior policy analyst with the National Federation of Independent Business.

WADE: Many businesses now are very hesitant on expanding, not knowing what economic conditions are going to be like six months out; what costs they will have to incur through higher taxes or regulations. But if they do see opportunities, they're certainly going to look for areas that can alleviate some of that uncertainty.

TIBERII: This is Ruger Gun Company's first expansion in 25 years and it hopes to open the North Carolina factory as soon as possible. It will invest $30 million and bring almost 500 jobs to this right-to-work state. It doesn't hurt that Rockingham County is gun friendly.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

TIBERII: Sheriff Sam Page is wearing a green hunting suit, boots and a black hat on a hot summer afternoon. The Rockingham County sheriff takes a few more rounds of target practice and then secures the firearm's magazine on his belt.

SHERIFF SAM PAGE: For about 20 years, you know, we were made up of textile and tobacco. And a lot of those industries have gone down and a lot of people have lost work and had to go other places to work.

TIBERII: The new gun plant will be in an old yarn factory. Vacant tobacco and textile factories have been turned into loft apartments, restaurants and even radio studios. The new job wouldn't involve rolling cigarettes or any embroidery, but plenty of people are ready to work.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Tiberii in Greensboro, North Carolina.

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