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KERNERSVILLE, N.C. — Some of Caterpillar’s newest factory workers are training inside a former carpet warehouse here in the heart of tobacco country. In classrooms, they click through online tutorials and study blueprints emblazoned with the company’s logo. And on a mock factory floor, they learn to use wrenches, hoses and power tools that they will need to build axles for large mining trucks.
The primary beneficiary is undoubtedly Caterpillar, a maker of industrial equipment with rising profits that has a new plant about 10 miles away in Winston-Salem.
Yet North Carolina is picking up much of the cost. It is paying about $1 million to help nearly 400 workers acquire these skills, and a community college has committed to develop a custom curriculum that Caterpillar has valued at about $4.3 million.
Caterpillar is one of dozens of companies, many with growing profits and large cash reserves, that have come to expect such largess from states in return for creating jobs. The labor market is finally starting to show some signs of improvement, with the government reporting on Friday that employers created 200,000 jobs in December.
Although the sums spent on training are usually small compared with the tax breaks and other credits doled out by states, some critics question the tactic.
“The question is, why shouldn’t the company pay for this training?” asked Ross Eisenbrey, the vice president of the liberal Economic Policy Institute. “It’s for their benefit.”
Critics suggest the programs may not even be in the best interest of workers if the resulting jobs pay low wages or simply disappear after a few years, leaving employees with narrow skills that do not help them land new positions. In North Carolina, for example, people are still smarting from the departure of a Dell factory that put nearly 1,000 people out of work just five years after the...