In N.C., Technology Equals Prosperity
Senate candidates back pro-tech policies
This year’s North Carolina Senate race pits Rep. Richard Burr?a conservative Republican advocate for telecommunications and biotech?against moderate Democrat Erskine Bowles?an investment banker with tech industry ties who was President Clinton’s chief of staff. Job losses in a tech-friendly region are a top concern for state voters.
North Carolina lost more than 22,000 tech jobs in 2001 and 2002, according to the American Electronics Association, in addition to more than 150,000 textile and manufacturing jobs since 1990. “Economic issues are going to be part of the [campaign] discussion,” says Thad Beyle, a professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Burr has pushed for less regulation of the telecom industry to promote jobs; Bowles says retraining workers and enforcing trade agreements should be priorities.
Burr, now serving his fifth term in Congress, sponsored a 1999 bill establishing a biomedical imaging and bioengineering center at the National Institutes of Health, which Burr says will aid early cancer detection. The health-care and pharmaceutical industries, both major employers in North Carolina, are among Burr’s top contributors, according to the campaign finance site OpenSecrets.org.
A member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Burr says minimal regulation of the telecom industry will encourage investment in a fiber-optic infrastructure for the Internet. He says fiber-optic cablemaker Corning has enough plant capacity in his state to cover the demand for fiber nationally?and give North Carolinians jobs. As of February, Burr had received nearly $100,000 from the telecom industry. When it comes to outsourcing, Burr says he would consider incentives for companies to shift jobs to low-cost rural areas.
Bowles, who narrowly lost the 2002 Senate race against Republican Elizabeth Dole, has overseen some now-defunct technology companies. After leaving the White House in 1998, Bowles joined investment banking company Forstmann Little, through which he served as chairman of Metiom, an e-commerce software company, and as a board member for telecom vendor McLeodUSA. From 1999 to 2000, Bowles chaired the North Carolina Rural Prosperity Task Force, which led to the establishment of a commission to promote rural Internet access.
In 2002, Bowles’ Democratic primary opponents criticized his support for Nafta, saying the 1993 treaty cost thousands of textile and manufacturing jobs. Now, unions are among Bowles’s top contributors, providing $39,000 to date. Michael Brader-Araje, a Bowles adviser, fund-raiser and software entrepreneur, says Bowles wants to establish workforce training programs to offset potential job losses from trade pacts and toughen enforcement of existing agreements.