My Ideas: Economic Development

There are so many important issues facing North Carolina today. You’ll likely hear candidates for state office debating health care, education and environmental policies. But none of the proposed solutions will work if we don’t have the money to fund them. That is why I believe we must make economic development a top priority for all communities.

Textiles and tobacco no longer form the backbone of North Carolina’s economy. According to the Employment Security Commission, more than 5,000 businesses have shuttered over the last two decades. Many of those closings affected hundreds of workers and their families, making ghost towns of once vibrant communities.

If nothing else, those devastating closings taught us the danger of putting all our eggs in one basket. Instead of working to attract one big business to North Carolina, I believe it makes more sense to support smaller, community-based companies that are less likely to pick up and leave in search of friendlier tax codes. Backing 10 local companies to increase their employment by 30 people is a more economically sustainable solution to job creation than finding one company to employ 300.

We don’t need to look far in search of small businesses. North Carolina is already home to some great locally-owned companies, retail outlets, farms and factories. At the state level, our responsibility is to help these businesses grow by providing them with institutional support including training, technology and grants. We should continue to support and pursue new opportunities for cooperation between our great community college system and local businesses.

I grew up in a family-run business: As a boy, I bagged groceries at Smathers Market. I know how hard local business owners work to succeed. They deserve leaders at the state level working just as hard for their interests. As lieutenant governor, I would expand the state’s system of entrepreneurial incubators and help forge mutually beneficial partnerships among the state’s cities and towns.

In Canton, we’re working to create a combination State Expo Center / Rest Stop at the first exit travelers reach after they cross over the Tennessee border. This expo center, or market, will pique visitors’ interest in North Carolina by featuring products grown or made throughout the state. Visitors will be able to shop for barbecue sauce from Lexington or glazed pottery from the Seagrove area. By allowing each locality to contribute what it does best, the expo center will help maintain our communities’ traditional industries while building an economic base for the entire state.

The state expo is a winning project for everyone involved. But some promising economic development opportunities come with a high cost we must acknowledge and consider. We should be wary of incentive packages, and projects which could prove harmful to local economies and taxpayers, as well as the environment.

These are very general ideas, but I look forward to developing more targeted plans and initiatives with your help. I hope you will give me feedback on the thoughts I have shared here. Please do not hesitate to question, criticize or critique: I would like to continue our lively conversation.

Economic development calls for creativity, resourcefulness and vision. I believe I would bring those attributes to the lieutenant governor’s office. If you would like to learn more about me and my campaign, I would encourage you to visit my new re-launched web site at For those of you who already know me, I think you’ll also enjoy taking a look. Please let us know what you think.

[ed: fixed url, gf]



Hey Pat,

I saw you and your family at the Wake fundraiser last night but didn't get to talk with you. I saw Hampton Dellinger there also with his family and Walter Dalton. Nice to see you all engaged and in person.

I see Public Policy Polling has an early Primary Poll. Looks like it's just based on name recognition for the moment but that will change as the issues get discussed and fleshed out:

In the Lieutenant Governor’s race the candidates are Dan Besse, Walter Dalton, Hampton Dellinger, and Pat Smathers. If the election were held today who would you vote for?

8% Besse
14% Dalton
8% Dellinger
11% Smathers
59% Undecided

PS I fixed your link.

Mr. Smathers.

I like this idea, although I would hope that you will also expand on your support of universal health care, the environment, and education at some point.

I really like the idea of focusing on local business, and I think you could take it one step further and really make our state hum. Many years ago we were a leader in Agriculture for the reason that we are a big state with lots of different types of great soil. Now, the United States imports much of its grain, fruits, vegetables, nuts, even meat. Yet, we still have all that land and all that great soil. I'd like to see North Carolina pass a tax on cigarettes that is passed on, every penny, to local farmers. I'd like to see family farmers have the money to convert to organic and/or sustainable agriculture. This is the only facet of our family farming that is growing in North Carolina, and it can be used to create more local jobs as well.

Anyways, I like what you have proposed here.

Where are the candidates?

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.


Hi, Pat -

You don't know me (yet) but I swear you've been reading my mind.
I've been pondering this very subject.

I don't believe it's in the best interest of North Carolina to try to lure 'the big guys' here if we have to give away the farm to do it. I have to wonder how many of those jobs actually go to local people and how many go to people they bring with them - not to mention all the 'incentives'.

Some ideas I'd like to see explored are recycling from pick up to product. Take glass for instance - or tires
or steel. My county doesn't even recycle steel cans - or even aluminum cans other than beverage cans. We can do better than that.

I'd like to see the state invest in local brains and talent. Not every idea will work out but thinking and talking are still free. :)

I actually lived right next to a glass plant.

In college, and they had a recycling plant attached to it. they would grind glass every morning at 7am, I'm convinced it was to piss off the college students, then use it for production.

So, yeah, not a bad idea if we can get it.

Where are the candidates?

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.

Your Wake Up Call -

It wasn't to piss you off - it was to make sure you got to class on time.



you're supposed to go to class in college? Huh.

Where are the candidates?

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.

Wish someone had told me that when I was there.....

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

Interesting stuff

My instinct is to focus on what we want . . . maybe be industry sector (as Unique says, for example, around the environmental industry) and then work to attract selected industries and build the talent and infrastructure needed to make it all together. Too often, we're in a "chase anything that moves" frenzy and we end up over-paying.

Bumped to front page by me.

Good point A.

That's one reason I like the idea of local food and local farming, it's playing to a traditional strength of North Carolina but with a new twist.

I've said before, it seems stupid to be spending money on a biotech center near Charlotte, when it is the banking capital of the United States. How about the "Southern Wharton School" type thing.

Where are the candidates?

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.

Good ideas

These are good ideas, Mr. Smathers. It would be nice if the LG primary wasn't just about who shakes the most hands, but was also about the ideas we need. Making better use of small business incubators is a great idea - Virginia has had a lot of success with those, I believe. The key is to build up small businesses while also connecting them to their community. A lot of the poorest neighborhoods in my neck of the woods could really use a strong, locally-owned business for employment and local capital.

Also, we have a real opportunity to invest in the future of agriculture by getting into the organic and sustainability game. North Carolina doesn't have to abandon the agricultural economy, we just have to re-imagine our models.

when considering education... a component of your plan, remember adult education.

opportunities to retrain workers pay off big time, but often gets lost in the discussion surrounding k-12 and degree-granting institutions.

"...i feel that if a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." --tom lehrer, january 1965

Community colleges in particular

CC's in particular can (and do) fit the niche of (re)training students to work quickly in new industries, and many CC's also include incubators for business and arts. Since most CC students stay in the area where they recieve their education, getting them in touch with the community and encouraging them to start small businesses encourages economic growth in the places NC needs it most.


Thanks to everyone who has responded to this post on economic development. I apologize for not responding prior to now, but this has also been my National Guard drill weekend, and while I have been able to monitor comments, my ability to respond has been limited. As you can discern, my campaign slogan "Local Leadership, Statewide" means much more than being a Mayor running for a statewide office; it is about emphasizing and empowering local leaders to address community problems, including economic.

My request is that throughout this campaign you continue to think about how state government can assist local leaders in helping small businesses and in expanding existing industries. If you prefer to send me a personal e-mail instead of posting here publicly, please do so.

One thing I forgot to mention in my original post on this topic is the need for an established plan or procedure for when a major plant or industry announces plans to shut down, employing hundreds of people, that the employees can be approached about the possibility of forming a company to purchase and continue operating the facility. That is what occurred in Canton. In the mid 1990s Champion International announced plans to sell the paper mill in Canton and accompanying plant in Waynesville, both in Haywood County. As I recall, both facilities employed approximately 1,500 people or more at the time. The plant’s closing or downsizing would have had a devastating economic effect, not just on Haywood County, but all of Western North Carolina. Instead, local employee leaders decided to have an impact on their future. With assistance from several concerned sources, they formed an employee owned company, Blue Ridge Paper, to purchase and operate the facilities, as well as supporting plants in other states. Blue Ridge has continued to operate though significant damage incurred during the flooding of Hurricanes Frances and Ivan in 2004, as well as confronting the difficult financial times the paper industry has been undergoing for several years. The formation of Blue Ridge Paper Company is chronicled in Under the Workers' Caps by George Loveland. I highly recommend it to you to learn how dedicated local leaders can have a tremendous impact, not only on their local community, but regionally and statewide. The book also points out how once the facilities became employee owned, environmental concerns rose in importance, resulting in an improved environmental record. Just recently the last warning on the eating of fish taken from the Pigeon River was lifted and the company is supporting a restocking effort. While there is still work to be done in air and water cleanup, the point I want to make is that without local leadership, continued operation of the mill and environmental improvements would not have been possible.

Thanks again for everyone's comments which I will use. Please keep sending me your ideas, thoughts and comments, not only on economic issues, but other potential solutions to problems our state faces. My plan continues to be to post periodically on major issues, giving you my thoughts, but more importantly, seeking your ideas and suggestions.


...doesn't begin at "K", nor does it end at "12".
Strong economic development depends not only on a strong educational system for K-12, and community colleges, as stated above, but strong early care and education as well. Affordable, high quality child care provided by educated, well paid teachers offers not only a safe place for children to be while their parents participate in a growing economy, it gives children who might not normally have rich early childhood experiences an opportunity for expanded growth and development. Nearly all of the neurons necessary for learning develop before age 5. If a child is not in a nurturing environment, whether that's a home with an engaged nurturing parent, or a high quality early education setting, many opportunities are lost forever. And that, in turn, are lost opportunities for our state.

"Be the change you wish to see in the world." - Gandhi