June 1, 2015 – N.C. Commerce Secretary John E. Skvarla III spoke with a gathering of N.C. community economic developers today about his vision for economic development in the state.
The forum, which was organized by the N.C. Community Development Initiative, was attended by a diverse cross-section of affordable housing and community development practitioners from across the state.
The discussion with Secretary Skvarla was part of an ongoing commitment by the Initiative to connect community-based developers with a broad range of leaders who share a common commitment to expanding economic opportunity to all communities in the state.
Secretary Skvarla, who began work as the head of the N.C. Department of Commerce in January, opened the meeting by discussing the department’s agenda and the role community development can play in improving local communities. As part of this, Skvarla specifically asked for the community economic development sector’s help in supporting the department’s agenda with the N.C. General Assembly.
He outlined these legislative priorities:
- Enable the state to better compete for economic development through the effective use of industrial recruitment and retention incentives by enhancing the Job Development Investment Grant (JDIG) program.
- Promote community revitalization by restoring the state’s Historic Preservation Tax Credit.
- Enhance access to capital for small businesses by changing state law to allow for “crowdfunding” of entrepreneurs and other small ventures.
- Reduce the digital divide between urban and rural communities by using public investments where needed to connect the state’s rural areas to information technology.
- Lay the ground work for economic development by passing major bond initiatives that will provide $3 billion for investment in roads and other infrastructure in the state.
The forum, which was billed as an informal conversation, then transitioned into a lively discussion about how best to promote economic growth in the state’s underserved communities.
“We support Governor McCrory’s and Secretary Skvarla’s efforts to recruit high-paying jobs to North Carolina and to support homegrown entrepreneurs,” said Andrea Harris, founder and senior fellow with the Institute for Minority Economic Development. “At the same time, we urge them to recognize the need for additional tools to better assure that all communities in North Carolina prosper.”
Several participants encouraged Skvarla to embrace the commerce department’s role as a key agency in the effort to provide affordable housing in the state. Kate Rumely, executive director of Brick Capital Community Development Corp. in Sanford, talked about the challenges of financing community development at the local level and urged the secretary to support changes that would restore flexibility to the ways in which local governments in smaller communities can use Community Development Block Grant funds so that it can be used again for affordable housing and community development projects and not just for infrastructure.
Dana Boole, president and CEO of CAHEC, a nonprofit tax credit syndicator based in Raleigh, similarly congratulated Skvarla for his leadership on the effort to restore the state’s Historic Preservation Tax Credit. He then noted that the General Assembly has also eliminated the state’s Low-Income Housing Tax Credit and talked about how important it is for the development of affordable housing in the state to have this credit restored as well.
“This is a tool that we need to help attract private capital to finance the construction of high-quality, affordable workforce housing in North Carolina,” said Boole.
“Traditional economic development tools don’t really work in our communities,” said Michael Suggs, chairman of Goler Community Development Corp in Winston-Salem. “What we need are specific tools like these – tools like CDBG and tax credits that have been proven to make a difference in the work we do. Commerce can be a real partner in making sure that this happens.”
At the end of the discussion, Skvarla thanked the participants and indicated his support for work that “gets the private sector engaged and invested in the work you do.”
In response, Initiative President and CEO, Tara Kenchen, summed up the meeting by saying, “We look forward to working together to make sure this happens so that we have a seat at the table to help develop the tools and types of capital that the work of community economic development requires to be successful.”
On behalf of the Initiative and its community economic development partners, Kenchen expressed her appreciation for Skvarla’s remarks and her commitment to continuing to work collaboratively with the commerce department to ensure equitable growth and development throughout North Carolina.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Skvarla and his team conferred briefly with Kenchen and several Initiative board members, including N.C. Mutual President James Speed.
The N.C. Community Development Initiative leads North Carolina’s collaborative community economic development effort, driving innovation, investment and action to create prosperous, sustainable communities. For more information, visit www.ncinitiative.org.