By Lynn Bonner —

State Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker said Monday the state needs to respond faster to business-recruitment opportunities because other states are outrunning North Carolina.

Decker spoke to reporters and editors Monday afternoon about her plans for economic development and job growth. North Carolina has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. Gov. Pat McCrory has promised to lower the rate to a level close to those in neighboring states.

McCrory wants to privatize part of the state’s business-recruitment functions. The state House and Senate have passed versions of the bill creating the private nonprofit, but have not agreed on legislation to send to McCrory to sign.

On why North Carolina loses out to other states: Decker said she learned from consultants who bring business to the state that North Carolina has lost significant deals because it is not nimble enough, not because the tax rate and incentives threw the state out of contention.

“We were just too slow, oftentimes unable to get the deals together before other states had put their deal on the table and had run with it,” she said.

On marketing the state: Decker said the Commerce Department is going to develop a statewide economic development plan that will include county-specific strategies. The department is working with county economic developers on the statewide plan.

She said the persistent protests of legislative actions are making it hard to market the state.

“I’m fielding calls every day,” Decker said. “The current climate makes it very challenging to market North Carolina.”

While the so-called Moral Monday protests have drawn national attention, Decker said that most of the calls she gets are about the tax plan. She said later to questions about the regular protest demonstrations: “I think it’s important folks speak up, and I encourage that.”

On film incentives: Decker said she thinks film incentives should continue with some modifications. The goal should be to grow the film industry.

“Those are great, creative jobs for this economy,” she said, so studios locate in the state, and supporting industries grow around them.

On working with South Carolina: Decker said North and South Carolina should work together to attract aviation, aeronautics and defense industries that would benefit the eastern parts of both states.

“Companies really don’t care about those kinds of geographic lines,’ she said. “It’s political lines that we draw.’