City Council, touting its decision as a job-creating tool, voted last night to reimburse Bissell Companies up to $11 million for road improvements the company plans to make during its expansion of Ballantyne Corporate Park. Bissell wants to add a million square feet of office space to the area, with most of the space ostensibly for corporate offices. Bissell will improve one road and one intersection, and will partner with the N.C. Dept. of Transportation to build a bridge over I-485.
The council’s move is a classic Charlotte political decision: help out a high-dollar corporation, but give it a populist spin — in this case, “job creation.” It’s true that public-private partnerships often work out for everyone involved, and no one is suggesting the city should drive away any company that wants to move its headquarters here.
The real problem is that $11 million is a lot of money, city unemployment is at tragic levels, and the state’s poverty rate keeps climbing. That $11 million could have been put to better, more immediate use on a job-retraining program for middle- and lower-income Charlotteans who lost jobs that aren’t coming back. City staff could figure out whether it would be more helpful to create a new program or help Central Piedmont Community College expand its offerings. At this point, that's irrelevant, though, because the $11 million has already been tapped for Bissell. Of course, Bissell is a much more likely campaign contributor than some middle-class schmuck looking for a job, right?
What Charlotte really needs is more new projects like the Siemens factory being built here. Columnist Joe Nocero of The New York Times notes today that although the Siemens plant will “only” employ 800 people, it will “offer something that has become increasingly rare: middle-class jobs that don’t require a college degree. The jobs pay between $20 and $30 an hour, plus benefits, allowing a skilled machinist to make a decent middle-class living.” Citizens are suffering, and we’re giving away money to already-rich-as-Croesus corporations; welcome to the new economic order.