Roy Cooper at American Underground

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Attorney General Roy Cooper took full advantage of an hour in a room full of entrepreneurs gathered for ExitEvent’s first candidate conversation Wednesday, asking for help from the crowd with creating more competition and lowering costs in healthcare, innovating alternative energy solutions and finding new ways to communicate with the younger generation. 

Will he practice what he preaches and really engage the startup community if elected Governor? We’ll see what happens November 8. 

But it was an important step to make American Underground a stop on the Democratic candidate’s campaign and to sit for an interview all about issues facing startups and the innovation economy in this important election year. 

ExitEvent has extended similar invitations to Governor Pat McCrory, Senator Richard Burr and Deborah Ross, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate. Ross has confirmed a July 6 interview and conversations are ongoing with the McCrory and Burr campaigns. 

ExitEvent is holding these conversations in hopes of educating and informing entrepreneurs about local politics in a key election year and providing them a direct line to the state’s political leaders. 

Cooper’s visit was swift. He was greeted by ExitEvent Editor Laura Baverman and American Underground Chief Strategist Adam Klein, and given a brief tour of the Durham startup hub. Stops were made to admire its second-to-first floor yellow slide and Galaga gaming system. 

Cooper posed for photos with members of Archive Social, a social media archiving tool used by the state, as well as the American Underground team. Minutes later, he circled the room, shaking hands and meeting members of the entrepreneurial community. 

Once Cooper took his seat on the stage, his first remark reflected his visible enthusiasm—“It’s great to be in the startup hub of the South!” 

Roy Cooper ExitEvent forum
Attorney General Roy Cooper sits before a crowd of entrepreneurs at American Underground gathered to hear about his plans if elected Governor of North Carolina.
Over the next 45 minutes of questions from Baverman and entrepreneurs in the audience, he shared his position and ideas on a variety of topics. Here are some of the highlights but stay tuned for videos from the event:
 

Favorite apps and technology 

Aside from playing Plants vs. Zombies 2 and streaming live sports—especially the games of his alma mater UNC Chapel Hill—Cooper said he likes to explore all kinds of apps as a consumer, in order to understand how they use them. 

Count Cooper as an app creator too. He worked with a team of developers to launch a free NC Sex Offender Registry app with the North Carolina Department of Justice for families to use. 

Government engagement in entrepreneurship

Cooper acknowledged that the government could put more effort into helping entrepreneurs, beyond programs like the North Carolina Innovation Funds, funding to the NC Biotech Center and matching SBIR grants. He suggested that a state crowdfunding law to complement the recently implemented federal law would be a priority. He also hopes to improve access to credit and capital. And increasing collaboration between the entrepreneurial community and schools (including universities) will be key. 

Cooper also mentioned several big economic proposals in the General Assembly at the moment that haven’t yet come into fruition (crowdfunding, tax credits for making equity investments and $100 million for venture capital investments are included). If elected Governor, he’d put loan programs in place for entrepreneurs, which he hopes would add an incentive to get people to start more companies.  

Bridging the state’s rural/urban divide 

Cooper attributes his grasp of rural economic challenges to his time working in eastern North Carolina tobacco fields as a young person. And, though he is dedicated to eliminating those challenges, he realizes that the way to do so is not by ripping down the state’s urban areas. 

One solution is to get North Carolinians to tell the federal government, “Yes, we will take the billions of dollars you’re offering us to expand Medicaid to hundreds of thousands of people.” That, he said, would help struggling hospitals in rural areas, move good paying jobs to those areas and give private employers direct benefits on their premiums. 

Improving education 

“The current education system we have now is not sufficient,” Cooper told the crowd. That’s why one of his top priorities is to reshape it, by creating an environment where children are ready to learn before they even begin preschool. He’d particularly like to expand the Smart Start program launched by former Governor Jim Hunt in the 1990s to reduce the cost of child care and provide access to healthcare for kids and families. 

Cooper said his education plan offers a broad, “cradle through college” approach that also includes higher pay for teachers, holding all schools accountable for fostering their students’ success and investing in community colleges and universities. He cited Tennessee as a state with a compelling offering—free community college for students who can’t afford it. 

Overcoming partisan conflict 

Cooper stressed the need for policymakers to make win-win solutions that reach across party lines and pointed out his track record of actually doing so. An example from his time as a member of the North Carolina House of Representatives and as the Democratic Majority Leader of the state Senate was his ability to raise teacher pay above the national average. 

“I know we’re divided as a state and country now more than ever before, but it’s important to have leaders set aside the partisan bars,” he said. 

Cooper told the crowd he has also helped to recruit more forward-thinking members to the General Assembly, in hopes of bridging the divide in numbers. Several are running for office now. 

Attracting talent to NC 

After a question from Matt Kane, CEO of Precision BioSciences, about ways the state can help him compete for talent with Boston, Silicon Valley, London and other global cities, Cooper emphasized the need for North Carolinians to realize that their state is in a “talent war with the entire globe.” Drawing world-class thinkers to the state means investing in affordable education and transit, along with the arts, all of which he said are critical in making North Carolina attractive. 

But first, he said, the state must repeal HB2 and prove that it’s open and welcoming to all people. 

Combating rising healthcare costs 

Cooper charged the room of entrepreneurs to help find creative solutions to cut down on escalating healthcare costs for both employers and consumers. As Governor, he’d encourage healthcare providers to be more open to patients about what items cost, so they could make more informed choices. 

He also hopes to see more innovation around the merging of technology and medical data, so coordination between healthcare facilities is seamless and they can better serve patients. 

Getting social 

As youth move away from traditional news media, Cooper recognizes that public opinions are more commonly formed using social media. His team is actively using Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook to direct attention toward his campaign and the issues he’d like to take on if elected governor. 

He encouraged the audience to look at his campaign and give some feedback on the way he and his team is handling social media. “It’s critical that not only do we try to communicate through social media with our campaign, but that state government works in that way as well,” he said. 

Entrepreneurs: Get involved 

Admitting that it might be distasteful to do so, Cooper said entrepreneurs need to get more involved with the government and its processes in order to make a difference and have their plights known. 

On his side, if elected governor, he would use his power to assist businesses while maintaining enough distance to keep from overburdening them with obstacles like codes and regulations. 

Cooper wrapped up the talk with a salute to the startup community, saying “I’m impressed with what you’re doing here in Durham; We’re positioned to be the very best and that should be our aim.”