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'All Carrots And No Sticks': Wake Commissioners Consider Living Wage Incentive

A map of economically vulnerable areas in Wake County.
Wake County Economic Development
A map of economically vulnerable areas in Wake County.

Businesses that set up shop in poor parts of Wake County could soon receive financial incentives, provided they pay employees a living wage. That means employees can meet their basic needs without public or private assistance.

At a Wake County Board of Commissioners work session this week, Wake County Economic Development presented a proposal to to reward companies. It included a map of economically vulnerable areas.

Wake County Commissioner Matt Calabria supports the incentive proposal.

"We do a good job in Wake County of bringing high-paying jobs in, but we also want to bring working class folks up," Calabria said. "A lot of economic development programs, really countrywide, are sort of one-size-fits-all programs. And what we want to do is make sure that we are creating an economic development scheme that is going to benefit folks from all walks of life."

Calabria acknowledges that economic development incentives aren't universally popular -- critics question their cost effectiveness and equability -- but he said his fellow commissioners are also interested in this program.

"This plan is all carrots and no sticks," he said. "Under our state scheme, counties aren't even able to regulate things like living wage in the private sector. But we do want to encourage good behaviors, and living wage is a great place to start."


Wake County Economic Development Executive Director Mike Haley agreed.

"This incentive policy is but one aspect of an overarching strategy focusing on equitable economic development," said Haley, adding that the organization is flushing out plans for potential development sites, local attractions and workplace training improvements. 

WCED will return to the Wake County Board of Commissioners with a plan and proposed wage floor at a future meeting.

Wake Commissioners voted in 2015 to raise the pay floor for county employees to $13.50 per-hour.

Rebecca Martinez produces podcasts at WUNC. She’s been at the station since 2013, when she produced Morning Edition and reported for newscasts and radio features. Rebecca also serves on WUNC’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accountability (IDEA) Committee.
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