"Part of it is getting government out of the way," says Brian Balfour, policy director for Civitis, a conservative advocacy group based in Raleigh. Before the flip at the Statehouse, Balfour was resigned to being an unwanted guest at the party. Now he relishes Civitis's new role as a partner to the policymakers. "Taxes are the largest barrier to growth," he says — echoing a Republican argument during last year's presidential campaign.
But, as both sides pointed out then, the research is all over the map. "Pick a study," concedes Lane, the UNC economist. Still, while local experts like Freyer worry that GOP policies create only low-wage jobs in the service sector, not the kind of high-end jobs that states covet, Lane says that might not be such a bad idea. "What we need are living-wage, low-skill jobs," he says. The Triangle's success, he argues, doesn't spill over to the rest of North Carolina — and the Legislature is trying encourage job creation in other parts (where most residents live), even if it comes at the expense of places such as Raleigh. Ten-thousand tech jobs, Lane says, can't replace 100,000 jobs lost as the state's manufacturing base continues to erode. Lured by state marketers' sales pitch, which makes North Carolina sound like a land of plenty, too many people are streaming into the state without employment lined up. "Our goals," he drawls, "don't fill our holes."
Thom Tillis, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, rejects the notion that the Assembly's aggressive stance on social issues could impede economic development, arguing that North Carolina is a Southern state vying for business against Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia. "We've got to focus on states that are truly our competition," Tillis says. (The last thing liberal Raleighites want is to be more like South Carolina or Tennessee.) "All of them have those policies for years. It doesn't seem to be hurting their ability to compete," he says. "That's more of a red herring."
Others aren't so sure. Brad Wilson, the CEO of BlueCross/Blue Shield of North Carolina, told a corporate forum in August that the Legislature was tarnishing the state's image. "Broadly speaking and all things considered, it has not been helpful to the North Carolina brand nationally," said Wilson, according to The News & Observer of Raleigh. "Anything that tarnishes the brand, by definition, has the potential of eroding the state's economic development story."
At the same forum, Colin Powell, the former secretary of State, made news for ripping the state's voter-ID law. "These kinds of actions do not build on the base. It just turns people away," he warned.
How Far Is Too Far?
Yevonne Brannon blinks in the summer sunshine. We're sitting outside a Burger King down the road from the farmers' market. "I was there the day the governor came out with cookies," she says.