Here's one thing taxpayers have learned from Dell's decision to close its Forsyth County plant and lay off the last of its workers by January: The critics who warned against state and local governments approving $280 million in incentives for the computer maker were right: It wasn't that good a deal, the jobs didn't pay that much money and who's to say the company will even stay in North Carolina?
State and local industrial recruiters -- including Gov. Mike Easley, his Secretary of Commerce Jim Fain and a long list of enthusiastic legislators and county commissioners from both parties -- had the best of intentions when they pushed for the largest economic incentive package in state history to bring jobs to the Winston-Salem area. They wanted jobs for a hard-pressed urban region, and the siren song of a major U.S. computer maker with a reputation for innovation and nimble manufacturing sounded like the sweetest of tunes. Policymakers up and down the line were smitten with the notion that a high-tech manufacturer would provide jobs that surely would be here for a long time.
Never mind that those jobs were estimated to pay an average of about $28,000 a year. Never mind that negotiations for the plant were conducted in secrecy. Never mind that legislators were called back into session to vote on the incentives without having sufficient details about the package to make an informed judgment.
What counted most was that economic developers were telling everyone this was a great deal. It was a great deal -- for Dell, not for North Carolina. Dell pushed hard to get incentives that would help them open the plant fast and operate efficiently. And as the public found out after the Commerce Department released records of its negotiations, Dell was a canny bargainer.
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