(This story originally appeared in the North Carolina Tribune, an affiliate publication of Business North Carolina.)
After Thom Tillis spoke to a group of Charlotte business officials last week, Ed Driggs, one of two Republicans on the 11-member Charlotte City Council, praised the U.S. senator for the tone of his remarks.
“How refreshing it is to hear from a national political leader who doesn’t spend his whole time trying to discredit the opposing party. We need more of that in this country,” Driggs said.
Indeed, Tillis emphasized his role in “every bipartisan effort” in the U.S. Senate and encouraged North Carolina leaders to show a similar spirit in terms of economic development. He said the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance (which hosted his talk) and other groups should “involve us as quickly as possible as you hear a rumor that someone is thinking about coming here. I really believe forming pursuit teams is critically important and is noticed..
“Let’s get everybody in the room and say we don’t know parties when it comes to an opportunity for economic development in North Carolina.”
The state has ample space for major new companies except in western North Carolina, where he said “we’ve got a lot of work to do.” He noted that the region’s “only major economic opportunity out there right now” is the proposed Piedmont Lithium mine in Gaston County. He urged greater efforts to boost the region.
Tillis expressed strong support for the mining project, which faces local criticism. “We’re working through some of the local concerns there,” noting that it’s the largest lithium deposit in North Carolina and can help reduce the United States’ dependence on China.”
The senator’s most lengthy response to questions at the event was a discourse on immigration. While hopeful Congress can pass a law next year to improve the system that many believe to be broken, Tillis says the strong likelihood that Republicans will regain control of the House of Representatives may make that more difficult.
Many Democrats and some of the more conservative Republicans on the November ballot don’t believe more immigrants are needed to solve the U.S. labor shortage, he said. Tillis disagrees: “The indigenous workforce can’t serve our current economy” with job vacancies in many industries.
Should many of those Republicans win, however, “I don’t see how you get a 50% plus one” for immigration reform, he said.
A couple other comments from the senator:
– He supports a bill that would legalize same-sex marriages because it would “provide certainty to those who have relied on the Supreme Court decision” permitting such marriages. But he also insists that the bill protect religious freedoms of those who disagree with same-sex marriage. “I think you can get both of them done if you spend enough time.”
– Duke University is delaying the opening of 80 beds at a Durham hospital because it can’t find enough nurses for proper staffing.
— It took Tillis 17 years after leaving high school to earn a bachelor’s degree. Then he paid for his children’s education. So he thinks President Biden’s $400 million student-loan forgiveness plan is “inherently unfair.” Why should folks like him retire “the debt of somebody who graduated from Yale,” he said.
– Asked what he thinks of Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson, who is leading in the polls for the GOP nomination for governor in 2024. Tillis said he’d wait to comment until after this November’s election. When pressed, he added, “We need to make sure we field a candidate who can deal with the complexities of this state” and resonate with Republicans, Democrats and the majority of North Carolinians who are unaffiliated.