Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Job creation incentives vs. actual results -- a delicate matter

I've watched economic development for a long time. In 1996, when I began reporting on business for the Post Register, the big concern was job cutbacks at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory (now just the Idaho National Laboratory.)

With outfits like Initiative 2000 (now Grow Idaho Falls), the Community Reuse Organization and the Regional Development Alliance leading the charge, a lot of money has been spent in the last 20 years on companies promising jobs to our area. Some have panned out and some have laid an egg. There's no need to go into names, but I attended a lot of groundbreakings and openings where officials were singing "Blue skies, shining on me ... " Likewise, I am personally acquainted with people who feel bitter at what they feel to be promises that were not kept.

It has always struck me that economic development is something that communities, states and nations must engage in, if only for the sake of self-protection, i.e. if you don't do it, somebody else is going to eat your lunch.

But putting public money down on what looks to be a great bet can't be for the faint of heart. It's one thing to score transportation funds to get a road widened or improved. But laying out incentives for a factory or power plant -- watch out.

Exit question: When an economic development deal goes sour, who ends up holding the bag?

What got me started this morning was a story that ran today on Bloomberg Businessweek about which states do best at keeping track of job creation incentives vs. actual results. In the study it cites, Idaho ranks 38th, tied with South Carolina.