Chamber’s bold statement

Jun. 12, 2014 @ 05:45 PM

The Research Triangle region has emerged in recent decades, certainly in recent years, as different from much of North Carolina. Generalizing is risky, but a torrential influx of newcomers, the affluence and innovation surrounding the Research Triangle Park and our great research universities, the high level of education they have spawned -- all have tended to give us a different civic vibe.

And if the Triangle is different, Durham defines the outer reaches of that difference. 

The Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce underscored that exceptionalism Thursday with a strong statement on teacher pay.

“The Chamber supports efforts to significantly increase compensation for teachers, and urges the State Legislature to strongly consider ALL available options for funding teacher pay increases including; reallocating resources from within the state budget, delaying or reconsidering future tax cuts; and increasing taxes.”

Take a close look at that language. We didn’t capitalize ALL – that’s in the chamber’s statement. At a time when our legislative majority thinks it is fostering economic development by cutting taxes, the leading business and economic development group in the state’s fifth largest city has said not just reversing past tax cuts but potential tax increases should be on the table.

And while we are sure many chamber leaders feel higher pay is important as a matter of justice to hard-working teachers, the group’s stance is not primarily about that. Given its makeup and its mission, frankly, that should not be its primary motivation.

Instead, it sees low teacher pay and a growing national conversation about that pay in our state as a threat to its economic development efforts -- efforts that have helped bring more than $690 million in new investment here this year alone.

The chamber’s statement was emphatic. “Attracting and retaining the best teachers is the key to improving public education, and North Carolina must be prepared to pay teachers competitive and fair salaries to accomplish those goals,” it said.

Given growing evidence that North Carolinians have become increasingly concerned about teachers’ pay, the call for higher salaries is in some ways an easy one. But an even easier one for business groups is to avoid the issue altogether – which, apparently virtually every other chamber in North Carolina has done.

Regardless of whether the legislature takes a cue from Durham and entertains raising taxes that many don’t want to pay for something virtually everyone seems to want, the chamber statement has sent an important message.

Whatever North Carolina may look like to new-business prospects for who a well-trained work force is important, the chamber has sent a powerful message that our brand needs to sometimes stand apart and above that of the state as a whole.

We know you get what you pay for – and we know, in the economic development game, what we want to get. We want 21st-century jobs, intellectually demanding jobs, creative class jobs. And we won’t get the benefits they bring by pinching pennies.