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The News & Observer’s recent examination of economic incentives said “attitudes have changed” here since North Carolina lost Mercedes to Alabama in 1993.

Actually, attitudes changed because we lost Mercedes.

The story accurately noted that North Carolina didn’t get the Mercedes plant because we didn’t match Alabama’s incentives. The N&O noted that my old boss, former Governor Jim Hunt, said at the time: “The kind of thing that Alabama did is not right for North Carolina.”

But look under the hood. There’s more to the story.

Hunt, characteristically, went hard after Mercedes. He was an aggressive recruiter – and a determined competitor.

North Carolina knew Alabama was offering a sweetheart deal. But Mercedes officials told Hunt and Commerce their decision would not be based on incentives. Hunt & Co. believed them. So North Carolina offered an employee-training package instead, including a “Mercedes University.”

But the Mercedes people weren’t being straightforward. Their decision was based on incentives.

Hunt and his team decided they’d been naïve. They went to work on an incentives policy for future prospects.

Hunt didn’t like losing. So he learned to like incentives.

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