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N.C. Commerce Secretary says HB 2 has not hurt state’s economy

McCrory appointee John Skvarla: HB 2 "hasn't moved the needle one iota"

Commerce Secretary John Skvarla - Photo: N.C. Department of Commerce.

Commerce Secretary John Skvarla – Photo: N.C. Department of Commerce.

North Carolina’s Commerce Secretary is insisting that HB 2 has had no negative impact on the state’s economy or on the state’s reputation as a good place to do business.

“It hasn’t moved the needle one iota,” John Skvarla told the Charlotte Observer. He insisted that the state is in the “best position” it’s ever been in, financially and operationally.

Skvarla said North Carolina has many attributes that make it a desirable place to set up a business or relocate, including low taxes, fewer regulations, and better quality of life.

Asked about the decision by PayPal to cancel its expansion into the state, Skvarla insisted that no harm was done to the economy.

“PayPal wasn’t even a grain of sand on the beach,” he said. “It was 400 call center jobs over five years. Much too much is being made of PayPal.”

According to Skvarla, he constantly hears from businesses located in other states, particularly California, New York and Illinois, about their desire to move to a state with lower taxes and fewer regulations in order to grow their companies. Skvarla insists that North Carolina still has “hundreds of active projects” expected to benefit the state in the future.

But perhaps Skvarla’s comments should be taken with a grain of salt, as he is a McCrory appointee and unlikely to publicly criticize the governor.

And some business leaders say they don’t share the McCrory administration’s rosy assessment of the state’s economic situation.

Johnny Harris, one of Charlotte’s most influential real estate developers, has called HB 2 a “train wreck” from the day it was first passed. He estimates that for every one company that decides to relocate to North Carolina, another 10 will not because of concerns over HB 2.

Similarly, Charlotte Hornets President Fred Whitfield said last week that the basketball franchise has been “hit hard” by HB 2, because performers have moved their shows from the Spectrum Center, which the Hornets are responsible for booking, and several other concerts or conventions aren’t even considering coming to the state.

Other critics of McCrory point to the slow trickle of bad news as the law has remained on the books, including multiple concert and convention cancellations, and the loss of the NBA All-Star Game and several college conference championships.

On Tuesday, the state was dealt another blow after real estate information and analytics company CoStar Group Inc. announced Tuesday that it will set up its new research operations headquarters in Virginia, costing the Tar Heel state at least 730 jobs.

The news about CoStar comes just after Skvarla and North Carolina made headlines for asking PayPal to return an oak bowl carved from wood from the state capitol grounds. The bowl was one of hundreds given over the last year whenever a company announced plans to expand operations in North Carolina.

“We reached out to them and said, ‘Give us the bowl back.’ That is a North Carolina artifact from the North Carolina state capitol made by North Carolina artisans for companies that are coming into North Carolina,” Skvarla told the Observer. “We got it back, gave it to a charity auction, and they raised money that is for the benefit of the state capitol.”

The Human Rights Campaign, which has been one of McCrory’s fiercest critics, issued a statement rejecting Skvarla’s contention that HB 2 has had no impact on the state’s economy.

“Governor McCrory’s misplaced priorities were on full display for all of North Carolina today as he would rather deny the obvious than side with a majority of voters and hundreds of business leaders who want HB 2 repealed,” HRC spokesman Brandon Lorenz said in a statement. “Governor McCrory and his allies would rather talk about anything — including wooden bowls — than the hundreds of millions of dollars in damage they have cost North Carolina by refusing to fully repeal HB 2.”

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Shelf Wood
John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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