When should government help private industry?
“Government’s job is NOT to fund private industry!”
“Shouldn’t the mill pay to keep themselves up to par as far as emissions? Why do our tax dollars have to help them? My small business doesn't get help from the state to cover upgrades!”
Those comments above are from our Facebook page in response to a post about the General Assembly’s last-minute decision to come up with $12 million to help Evergreen Packaging in Canton. The money will go to help the company meet EPA-mandated requirements to switch from coal to natural gas in its boilers. The switch is expected to cost around $50 million.
The move will be good for the environment, helping the mill meet stricter emission requirements. Evergreen is currently the largest industrial air toxin polluter in Western North Carolina and one of the largest in the state, according to federal emissions reporting.
The company also employs more than 1,000 people at its two Haywood facilities, jobs with an average salary of $78,000 per year.
But what about the argument that it’s not the government’s job to help Evergreen? I’ve written many times over the years against incentives for attracting new industry, wondering if that money to entice some company to locate here in our state is really money well spent.
It gets obscene sometimes, companies making demands of local and state governments, creating a bidding war that spirals downward as more tax breaks and more incentive money is thrown away to try and attract jobs.
But in the real world, reality and philosophy don’t always line up. As we fight and scratch our way out of this lingering economic downturn, I wonder how much worse things might have been had the feds not jumped in to help banks and the auto industry? I’m no economist, but somehow one can only imagine that loans that are now very difficult to get would be even more elusive had the government not jumped into the fray.
In some ways North Carolina has been among the more restrained states when it comes to offering incentives. We missed out last year when a Caterpillar plant and its 1,400 jobs went to Georgia instead of the Wilmington area. And many still bemoan the fact that it was South Carolina and Alabama, respectively, who got the BMW and Mercedes plants in the 1990s.
Count me among those who think our restraint is, for the most part, wise. North Carolina has a lot to offer with our quality of life, university system, community colleges and public schools (recent funding cuts aside, I still believe our school system is better than most others in the South).
On the other hand, I do believe in using government incentives to help existing companies continue to be competitive. Sometimes manufacturing going overseas can’t be helped. In some cases, though, a little help at the right time can save jobs and help keep companies with a proven track record of treating their employees and their community well.
If the state is going to hitch on to the incentive gravy train, then a 100-year-old manufacturer that is going to cut its emissions and save some good-paying jobs is exactly where that money should be used.