Governor rolls out priorities for the year in string of speeches starting in Greensboro

by Jordan Green

Gov. Beverly Perdue made a string of speeches last week outlining her policy goals for the new year, beginning with an address to about 700 business leaders at the Koury Convention Center in Greensboro, telling them that creating jobs and maintaining employment has to be the state’s number-one priority.

“We’ve got to find ways to strengthen North Carolina’s economy and make North Carolina the best place in the world to start and grow a business,” she said.

The governor trumpeted a new initiative called “Biz Boost” that has already been piloted in Charlotte, which helps small businesses apply for and obtain credit, reduce overhead costs and manage staff. Perdue said the initiative will be underwritten by federal workforce monies obtained by US Sen. Kay Hagan.

“Biz Boost is going to use a lot of these workforce dollars to prevent small businesses from going under in the first place,” she said, “to prevent folks from losing their jobs in the first place, so we will actually go into existing businesses and pay for company salaries for awhile as we help them get a different business plan and model.”

As a second step, the governor said she will propose a tax incentive for small businesses that are incorporated in North Carolina and choose to stay in the state. As the audience applauded her, Perdue acknowledged that she would need cooperation from the General Assembly and urged their support.

The state GOP predictably derided the Democratic governor’s public rollout.

“Despite Gov. Perdue’s desperate attempts to give herself a nickname and lift her low approval ratings, more than 64,000 North Carolina workers have lost their jobs on her watch,” said Senate Republican Leader Phil Berger of Rockingham County in a formal statement the next day. “For far too many North Carolinians, Gov. Perdue’s administration will be remembered because of a ‘jobless’ economy. People out of work through no fault of their own need a governor and a state government administration with policies that encourage and enable job creation. Unfortunately, what we have is selfpromotion and no change from the policies that have hiked taxes, ballooned government spending and contributed to jobs being lost.”

Perdue was elected as a champion of education, but she conceded that her focus has now shifted in light of the relentless economic downturn.

She spoke about a new education initiative called “Career College Ready Set Go” “that will actually change the public schools and the hiring system here in North Carolina” and pledged to raise North Carolina’s high school graduation rate in the next three years by almost 10 points.

“We’re fundamentally changing the system,” she said. “We’re giving students and teachers little fun kind of handheld devices and every week or so the teacher can track the student’s progress, day in and day out in every year of school until graduation. We’ve brought in teams of mentors and business leaders and parents and grandparents and we’ve wrapped our arms around those little kids who’ve fallen behind from day one and we’re helping them master those basic levels.”

In a third area of focus during her 45-minute address at the Greensboro Partnership’s annual meeting, Perdue spoke about the need to raise ethical standards in Raleigh, while declining to detail specific abuses by officials.

“We’re fed up with the dishonesty, we’re angry about the backroom dealing and we’re tired, really, really tired of business as usual,” she said.

After referencing initiatives to publicly disclose information about state contractors, the governor said, “I made it very clear to the cabinet again this morning that zero tolerance for illegal or unethical behavior by those who serve the public is the new battle cry for North Carolina,” adding that she urged them to err on the side of firing an employee who turned out to be on the up-and-up over retaining one who continued to engage in unethical practices.

“I’ll go to court for it,” she said. Perdue appealed to her well-heeled audience to consider the difficulties faced by North Carolina workers at the bottom of the economic ladder.

“They’re worried somehow they’re going to get the pink slip and their

livelihood is going to be gone in the flip of a notice,” she said. Concluding, she paraphrased a letter from an unemployed Davidson County man: “People in North Carolina aren’t looking for a handout; they’re looking for a way out.”

Gov.Beverly Perdue addressed the Greensboro Partnership’s annual meeting atthe Koury Convention Center on Jan. 12. (photo by Jordan Green).