Newspaper probe of economic development reveals big gaps in transparency, accountability

The state’s four largest newspapers published an examination of local and state economic development programs and came up with this answer: Are Tennessee job subsidies a success? Secrecy makes it nearly impossible to know.

Across the country, citizens and some lawmakers have been asking for more accountability and transparency from economic development programs that would show which job subsidies are effective and which are not.

This is a pretty cool database that allows you to check on the FastTrack grant program in your county. You can see how many jobs companies in your county promised, and how many they say they have produced. FastTrack grants are one of the few programs in the state that require job reporting; one criticism is that the numbers are self-reported by the company with little cross-check with labor or other data by the state.

Tennessee has made some tentative steps toward transparency at the state level. But as the reporting led by Mike Reicher of The Tennessean showed, it’s difficult to know just how many jobs are created for all the government tax breaks and job grants out there.

“The data proved elusive,” Reicher writes.

In the state grant programs where companies are required to self-report job numbers, little verification takes place. And in some instances at the local level, the value of property tax breaks is not even calculated.

The lawyer for the Clarksville-Montgomery Industrial Development Board told the newspapers that inquired about local incentives to Google: “We’re not going to spend our time and money answering your questions.”

Jobs are not the only measure of the effectiveness of an economic development program. And the number of new jobs created by a company in one distressed county might mean more to the state than the same number of a jobs created in a booming county.

But the days of hiding or ignoring the “results” of economic development need to come to an end if these very expensive programs – estimated at $2.5 billion a year in Tennessee – are going to have the faith and trust of the people who provide the tax dollars to fund them.

Read the stories, and check out the graphic that allows you to search by your own county:

Are Tennessee job subsidies a success? Secrecy makes it nearly impossible to know.

Volkswagen won most subsidies in Tennessee, but were they all necessary?

Are PILOTs a necessary evil for luring jobs to Tennessee?

TVA keeps its economic development subsidies secret

What’s the difference between a grant, a subsidy and a tax credit?

VW promised Roane County jobs, with uncertain return

Amazon collects tens of millions in incentives, but jobs progress is unclear

How we analyzed Tennessee subsidy deals

Nissan’s growth in Tennessee spurred by hundreds of millions in incentives

In red-hot Nashville, are incentives necessary to lure companies?

How does Tennessee stack up in reporting business subsidies, job creation?

Tennessee business subsidies: 1 winner, 1 loser, 1 unknown

 

 

What do you think?