Jim Fain, a longtime North Carolina commerce secretary, has died at age 80

RALEIGH, N.C. — Former state Commerce Secretary Jim Fain, who in the 2000s helped North Carolina bring in companies from the pharmaceutical, financial services and aviation sectors, has died at age 80.

Fain — the state’s primary economic recruiter during Democratic Gov. Mike Easley’s eight years in office — died Wednesday at a hospice center in Raleigh, his son, John Fain, said Friday. He had been in declining health over the past year, the family said.

A longtime First Union executive who later served as the bank’s Triangle-area president, Fain first joined the state Commerce Department in 1999 as an assistant secretary in Gov. Jim Hunt’s administration. He was elevated to Easley’s Cabinet in 2001 during one economic downturn and left as the 2008 Great Recession was ramping up and Easley’s second term ended.

In between, the state attracted a host of new companies that helped counter the loss of manufacturing and textiles jobs overseas. They included Merck in Durham; Honda Jet in Greensboro; and Credit Suisse and Fidelity Investments in the Raleigh-Durham area. During Easley’s final year in office, the Global TransPark in Kinston finally landed a major tenant: aircraft component supplier Spirit AeroSystems.

Fain “was very proud of that moment,” John Fain said. His father later briefly became TransPark president and continued as an economic development consultant.

Dan Gerlach, who was Easley’s budget adviser, credited Fain for improving North Carolina’s attractiveness to companies looking to build or expand through his efforts to overhaul the state’s chief financial incentives tool. The General Assembly passed legislation creating the Job Development Investment Grant program, which began in 2003 and remains in place today.

Gerlach said Fain helped create JDIG, which closed North Carolina’s disadvantages with economic incentives and remains a national model.

Fain’s “tireless work and direct advocacy with companies ... made a real difference,” Gerlach said.

James Toole Fain III was a Hendersonville native who graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

A memorial service will be held next Thursday at Christ Episcopal Church in Raleigh. Fain’s wife, Peggy, died last year. In addition to his son, Fain is survived by a daughter, Catherine, and a brother.

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