Bringing it all back home with Paul Norcross

by Jordan Green

A charter school founder with a longstanding admiration for Ronald Reagan has jumped into the race for the Republican nomination in NC House District 61, which is being vacated with the retirement of Rep. Laura Wiley.

High Point businessman Paul Norcross so far faces two opponents in the Republican primary: High Point City Councilman John Faircloth and High Point mortgage broker Gerald Grubb.

Created after the 2000 Census, District 61 is considered a safe Republican seat and no Democrat has ever contended for it, much less won it. Mostly comprised of High Point, it also covers Jamestown, Colfax and parts of Greensboro. Filing for the election begins on Feb. 8, and the primary takes place on May 4.

Norcross said he decided to run when he read a front-page newspaper story about Wiley’s decision to retire.

“I looked at my wife,” he recalled during a recent interview. “She knew what I was going to say. She said, ‘Go ahead.’ She’s tired of me screaming at my television.”

Norcross’ two declared priorities — job creation and education, in that order — align exactly with those of Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue.

As the founder of the Phoenix Academy, a High Point charter school, much of Norcross’ professional career has been consumed with education. He said he considers improving education, along with reducing the state’s tax burden, to be a key driver in recruiting new businesses. He wants to work with GTCC President Donald Cameron to organize an annual educational conference on furniture and fabrics to help reinforce High Point’s position as an industry center. Citing the NC Research Campus in Kannapolis as an example of what can happen with coordinated planning, he said he would like to see High Point develop into a supply-chain hub for the furniture industry. He also said that global economic shifts may upset China’s current dominance in furniture makes perfect sense,” Norcross said. “Giving triage to a company that may be failing — maybe there’s an opportunity for another company to pick up the services, which is fundamental to our capitalist system.”

Comparing Perdue’s Biz Boost program to the unpopular federal bailout of the banking and auto industries,

Norcross quipped that General Motors “got a lot of triage, and they’re still on the table sucking up a lot of blood.”

In line with his experience founding a charter school, Norcross said the state’s difficult budget situation could be tackled by reducing costs through the privatization of services.

“We’re big believers in domestic outsourcing,” he said.

Norcross suggested prisons as an area where cost savings through privatization might be explored. Campaign manager Chuck Greene, a lifelong Democrat, cautioned the candidate to be careful of staking himself out on specifics.

“There’s unintended consequences that have to be considered,” said Greene, a High Point lawyer. “In some of the states that have outsourced prisons, they’re throwing up new prisons and the private companies are lobbying, saying, ‘You need to get tough on crime and send more people to prison.’ I don’t think the legislators contemplated that.”

Like Norcross, Greene has little background in politics. He said he decided to help Norcross because the candidate is an outsider with a fresh perspective who will be focused on results rather than acting on old grudges.

“I see Paul as having a new way of looking at things,” Greene said. “I think that will be a positive for House District 61 and for all of North Carolina because I think that’s more important manufacturing, and the state’s leaders need to be thinking about how to take advantage of opportunities to shift manufacturing capacity back to North Carolina.

Norcross grew up in Asia. His family had a furniture company in the Philippines and a trading company in Hong Kong. That experience crystallized his desire to bring the furniture industry back to High Point.

“It’s a different world over there and, believe me, I’d rather be here,” he said. “I asked my daughter and a number of her friends: ‘What are you going to do when you move back to High Point?’ Almost without exception, they said, ‘I’m not moving back to High Point. What is there to do here?’ We need to change that.”

Citing Reagan’s “Morning in America” speech as an inspiration, Norcross said he is the kind of Republican who can work with Democrats. Observing recent Republican victories in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Virginia, Norcross said the lesson is the same one that can be drawn from Barack Obama’s 2008 landslide: Voters want leaders who are responsive to constituents instead of to their parties and to corporate campaign contributors. His common ground with Gov. Perdue — who wants to offer tax incentives to small businesses and provide emergency assistance to floundering small businesses — is private-sector job creation. The details of how that goal is reached might be a matter of disagreement. than having the right letter in parenthe- “Tax incentives for small business sis behind his name.”