by Brian Balfour
Senior Vice President of Research, John Locke Foundation
A recent Economist magazine article examined President Joe Biden’s industrial policy approach, describing it as “place-based industrial policy.” (subscription may be required)
The article describes such policies as directing tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to specific “struggling regions” in order to boost manufacturing capacity and hopefully incentivize private investment. Specific examples the article cites include $10 billion to create 20 regional “tech hubs” outside of current tech investment hotspots as well as $9.6 billion in “regional innovation centers.”
Reading this description of a key plank of Bidenomics rang eerily similar to NCInnovation.
While on a smaller scale, the $1.4 billion Senate request for the new nonprofit would constitute the largest taxpayer allotment to a non-state entity in North Carolina state budget history.
The organization’s goals to leverage taxpayer money to turn North Carolina into “the Innovation State,” and stated desire to engage in targeted “research commercialization” in regions deemed to be lacking in such resources closely resembles the goals of Biden’s “place-based industrial policy.”
No matter how you dress it up, such measures amount to further government intervention and control of the economy, at taxpayer expense.
As if the close resemblance to Bidenomics doesn’t raise enough red flags for conservatives, NCInnovation’s staffing and close ties to left-leaning organizations should invite closer scrutiny.
For instance, three members of NCInnovation’s leadership team have experience with Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration, the Biden administration, or North Carolina’s old Democratic Party establishment infrastructure.
Senior Vice President and Senior Strategy Officer Jeff Sural’s most recent government experience includes several years with the Biden and Cooper administrations. He spent 15 months as Senior Broadband Policy Advisor in Biden’s Department of Treasury, and prior to that nearly 7 years in the North Carolina Department of Information Technology – most of which were under the Cooper administration. Sural also served as a “co-leader” of the US Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund, helping to distribute billions in taxpayer dollars via Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act.
And Michelle Bolas, Chief Innovation Officer and Senior VP for University Partnerships, spent nearly six years working for the Institute for Emerging Issues at N.C. State, an organization founded by former Governor Jim Hunt.
Also concerning are the sources of research NCInnovation relies on for its justification. Prominent on their site is a claim that North Carolina ranks “20th in innovation” among the states. This ranking appears to come from a December 2021 report produced by Gov. Cooper’s Department of Commerce, led by Cooper appointee Machelle Baker Sanders. Indeed, the report is labeled as “a call to action” by Sanders, no doubt referring to taxpayer-funded activities.
NCInnovation also cites a 256-page report by the National Research Council of the National Academies funded by grants from the federal government. The Council’s work appears geared toward generating government involvement in more aspects of society, and their website touts their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Chapter 1 of the report explores – you guessed it – “place-based economic development,” the very same policy touted by the Biden administration.
There are numerous reasons to oppose sending taxpayer dollars to NCInnovation. Foremost among them is that your tax dollars should not be used to finance politically-favored businesses. We can add to this list the fact that NCInnovation would look a lot like a key component of “Bidenomics,” and is inspired and led by partisan actors.