Archive for the ‘Site Location Consultants’ Category

Tesla Open Letter Electrifies Gigafactory Debate

August 29, 2014

Early this week Good Jobs First joined its voice with those of progressive organizations in Arizona, California, New Mexico, Nevada and Texas to express concerns about the pending subsidy bidding war over Tesla’s proposed Gigafactory.  In case you missed it, an open letter signed by Arizona PIRG, the California Budget Project, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN), New Mexico’s SouthWest Organizing Project, Texans for Public Justice  and Good Jobs First regarding the multi-state competition has been generating growing media attention.  The letter calls for state leaders to seize the opportunity presented by Tesla’s subsidy demands, communicate with each other, and reject the harmful Race to the Bottom.

Much of our daily work at Good Jobs First consists of monitoring massive subsidy packages that often don’t receive much attention in the media.  But events like the Gigafactory bidding war provide an opportunity to break down these complicated issues into smaller pieces that allow a practical public dialogue about job creation, competition, and fairness.

If the growing media coverage of our open letter is any indication, people have been waiting for a vehicle to talk about these issues.  The Tesla competition has allowed stakeholders in all five states an opportunity to express their concerns about business subsidies to their lawmakers as well as be heard by sympathetic ears outside their states.   “We are asking for more transparency, to talk and avoid this hypercompetitive race to the bottom,” Bob Fulkerson of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada reasoned in an interview with the Reno Gazette Journal.

Chris Hoene of the California Budget Project appealed to fairness: “Why should Gov. Brown (California) and Gov. (Rick) Perry in Texas be acquiescing to the demands of one particular company? They’re running states with multibillion-dollar economies, with much more important issues to be addressed,” he told the Desert Sun.  The subsidy-favoritism angle was also seized upon by conservative columnist Timothy P. Carney, who Tweeted “Two cheers for the Left…” to promote his glibly titled piece “Progressives, for a change, take lead in opposing corporate welfare (for Tesla)” in the Washington Examiner.

In New Mexico, Javier Benavidez of the SouthWest Organizing Project (SWOP) warned the Santa Fe New Mexican about the risks inherent in major economic development subsidies:  “We’re very pro job growth, but these deals don’t always pan out.”   The U.S. Public Interest Research Group echoed SWOP’s caution in Arizona, stressing the need for taxpayer protections.  “Let’s make sure that whatever state ends up with this, however the process is, the company is held accountable for actually delivering on the promises that it’s making,” said Phineas Baxandall.

What began as regional print coverage has developed into a national controversy covered by USA Today, CNBC, CBS News, The Fiscal Times, the Christian Science Monitor and other outlets that have the ability to depict this competition for what it is – symbolic of a multi-state problem in need of a multi-state solution.  The country needs journalists, lawmakers, and the public to engage in a dialogue about how we will together level the playing field for all businesses, how to best pursue economic growth, and at what cost.  At Good Jobs First, we hope the national conversation continues.  It’s past due.

Rhode Island Considers Defaulting on Bonds for Notorious 38 Studios Deal

May 22, 2014

The aftermath of Rhode Island’s biggest economic development scandal isn’t over yet. In 2010 the state’s privatized economic development agency loaned 38 Studios—a video game company founded by former major league pitcher Curt Schilling—some $75 million in subsidies which the state borrowed to provide. The firm soon failed, apparently leaving taxpayers with an obligation that has risen to $89 million (with interest), including a $12.3 million payment due next year.

Those payments are now in question. Rhode Island’s House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello has scheduled meetings with Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s to discuss the consequences of failing to pay. While these bonds are not backed by the full faith and credit of Rhode Island, a previous consultant to the state made dire warnings about failure to pay, claiming that the move would degrade Rhode Island to junk bond status.

Mattiello became Speaker two months ago after the FBI raided the office of his predecessor Gordon Fox, who had played a significant role in approving the loan to 38 Studios. According to recent news reports, Fox’s lawyer moved to quash a subpoena for documents related to 38 Studios, citing his client’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. No charges have been filed pursuant to the raid.

Fox also had connections to a Providence lawyer named Michael Corso, who was involved with the 38 Studios deal.  Leaked documents show that Corso was paid $300,000 by 38 Studios to interact with state agencies and officials. Additional revelations show Corso was paid $485 an hour by 38 Studios to evaluate potential incentives for the company. Corso failed to register as a lobbyist on behalf of 38 Studios. This revelation launched an additional investigation this May by State Police into potential lobbying violations.

Corso is also a tax-credit broker. His company, Preservation Credit Fund, had a contract with 38 Studios to allow it to sell tax credits secured by the company. According to Corso’s LinkedIn page, “Preservation Credit Fund works closely with developers and advisors to maximize tax credit benefits, advise on tax credit issues and provide syndication services.” Corso has been dubbed the state’s leading film tax credit broker and has even claimed to be the primary draftsperson of Rhode Island’s Historic Preservation Tax Credit.

In another strange development, the state recently hired First Southwest, a financial adviser it is simultaneously suing for “fraud, negligence, and legal malpractice” in connection with the 38 Studios loan. According to the state’s lawsuit and reported by the Providence Journal, First Southwest was paid $120,000 to pitch the 38 Studios’ loan subsidy to the privatized economic development agency’s board of directors and bond rating agencies.  The lawsuit accuses First Southwest of withholding vital information about the deal, primarily that the company was under-capitalized, thus making the loan appear less risky than it was. The company denies these allegations. New emails made public this week reveal internal discussions amongst 38 Studios executives about downplaying the under-capitalization issue.

It is a little-known fact that states and cities sometimes cover debt obligations for failed or troubled economic development transactions (including tax increment financing districts), even though they are not technically obligated to do so. But the fear of paying usurious interest rates on future deals causes them to reluctantly pay. Good Jobs First has observed that in the Great Recession, some development agencies apparently became very lax in their deal-vetting standards, as politicians were desperate to appear aggressive on jobs.  For performance-based subsidies, at least taxpayers won’t suffer from such deals; but when public debt is floated on insufficient collateral, as in the Studio 38 deal, taxpayers stand to suffer no matter what Rhode Island officials decide to do.

It’s a Teachable Moment about celebrity entrepreneurs, tax-credit consultants, and anxious politicians.

New Jersey’s Economic Development Incentives Face Scrutiny with Christie Administration

March 5, 2014

Christie troubleAs the Christie Administration faces intensifying scrutiny over the Governor’s relationships with his political appointees, the state’s economic development incentive awards have also come into question.  This week The New York Times revealed that David Samson, Chairman of the Port Authority and the central figure of “Bridge-gate,” also played a critical role in expanding the scope of New Jersey’s subsidies through his law firm Wolff & Samson.  In addition to lobbying for tax breaks for Honeywell, the firm also served as counsel for the state’s bond deal on the controversial Panasonic relocation, and represented the infamous Xanadu (now American Dream) project when it sought a new set of subsidies from the state.

New Jersey Policy Perspective revealed a year ago that the volume and value of special tax breaks given to companies mushroomed under Gov. Christie’s leadership, rising to a record $2.1 billion in the first three years of his term.  But the subsidy blowout hasn’t demonstrated a positive effect on New Jersey’s employment rate, according to Jon Whiten at NJPP.  Compared to the national average, the state has recovered half as many jobs following the recession.  We may now be getting a better understanding of how these subsidies were used, if not for job creation.

Read the full article “In Job, Appointee Profits and Christie Gains Power” at The New York Times website.

Another Scandal at Florida’s Privatized Development Agency

February 28, 2014
Click to watch the CBS12 investigation

Click to watch the CBS12 investigation

For the followers of Enterprise Florida (EFI), another scandal at the organization should not come as a surprise. Television station CBS12 in Palm Beach discovered this week that EFI, the privatized “public-private partnership” responsible for recruiting companies to the state, has spent thousands of dollars on entertaining site selection consultants.

About $21,000 was spent at Yankee Stadium in New York, another $7,100 at the Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Tex., and $4,400 at Turner Field in Atlanta, Ga. More than half a million more was billed to EFI credit cards for food, hotels and other entertainment. Enterprise Florida justified the lavish entertainment bills by saying it “must build and maintain strong relationships with site selection professionals across the country.” It is important to remember, however, that the majority of EFI’s funding comes from the public coffers, so, ultimately, the Florida taxpayers are the ones paying for those lavish expenses.

Just a few months ago, another scandal revealed that few of the jobs announced by EFI have yet materialized and several of the announced deals actually collapsed.

Integrity Florida, a nonpartisan watch-dog group, sent a letter to Governor Rick Scott calling on him to investigate the EFI spending. We join the Integrity Florida call!

ED Officials Agree with Us!

February 18, 2013

A stunning survey issued today by the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) proves that state and local economic development officials overwhelmingly agree with most accountability activists.

That is, hundreds of people who deal with site location consultants, tax-dodging lawyers, and footloose companies every day think there need to be some serious rule changes.

This is a very mainstream sample: IEDC is the nation’s largest professional association of economic development officials: it has about 4,500 members (the vast majority in the U.S., despite its name) and the survey was conducted in January, with a reported 350 respondents. (As well, IEDC has corporate members, including site location consultants; no cross-tabs of responses by type of member are provided.)

Look at what they said (words in quotes come from IEDC’s January 18 summary, which does not reproduce the survey instrument and is member-password restricted):

98.6 percent said “incentives should be structured in such a way that the community receives a tangible return on investment (e.g., employment, capital investment).”

(On that issue, see our Money for Something.)

“96 percent believe that part or all of the granted incentives should be returned if a company does not meet agreed-upon projections [i.e., clawbacks].”

(On that, see our Money-Back Guarantees for Taxpayers.)

67 percent “do not think it is ethical for location consultants to be compensated as a percentage of the incentive package they negotiate…”

(On that, see Chapter 2, Chapter 3 and Chapter 9 of my 2005 book.)

61 percent “believe location consultants’ compensation in a deal should be public information…”

In an open-ended comment section, “[p]erhaps the most frequent comment was that incentives practices are ‘out of control’…”

To be sure, despite these frustrations—and even though 57 percent said the frequency of incentive use is “too many,” the development officials responding generally don’t favor getting rid of subsidies. Instead they asked for help not getting snookered:

78 percent “responded that they approve of the practice of using financial incentives to influence business location decisions.”

But more than “80 percent responded that they or their peers or colleagues would benefit from more training in analyzing incentives deals.” Their most commonly requested new skills were how to calculate Return on Investment (ROI), fiscal impact, and the value of non-cash incentives.

“83 percent responded it would be helpful to have a set of guidelines or best practices for negotiating incentives packages.”

(On that point, see this publication of ours and this one, too.)

Without seeing the survey instrument, I am struck at how the responses all seem to overlook site location business basics: labor, occupancy, logistics, proximity to suppliers and customers, etc. That is, they apparently ignore the more than 98 percent of a typical company’s cost structure that is not state or local taxes and therefore cannot be influenced by subsidies. Clearly, some respondents believe that companies bluff and others said things like (quoted comment): “public monies are needed to provide public services and we shouldn’t be coerced into subsidizing large companies that don’t need the assistance.”

The development staffers also made it clear that politicians are no help. Many said there is a “‘general need in our industry for sharper benefit/cost analysis skills.’ Yet ‘a lot of times, elected officials don’t really care about the details of these numbers.’”

The IEDC survey has a second part, on the uses of subsidies, to be released soon. Clearly, this is a raw issue for Council members, especially those in smaller localities: last April IEDC published a guide on how to deal with site location consultants.

As someone who began training public officials on these issues in the late 1980s, I have seen a sea change in attitudes. Most feel trapped in a game whose rules they would never have written, and this IEDC survey attaches numbers to my takeaways.

So when will elected officials finally heed this consensus and start fixing the rules? If two-thirds of development officials agree it is unethical for site location consultants to pull down commissions on subsidies they negotiate, which state will step up and become the first to register and regulate these secretive, powerful players as lobbyists and thereby deny them success fees, a.k.a. commissions?

Nike Runs Away with New Oregon Tax Giveaway

December 20, 2012

NikeTown, OR, USAOregon Gov. John Kitzhaber must have missed this month’s major New York Times investigative series on business subsidies.  Less than a week after the nation’s paper of record reported that such subsidies are a “zero sum game,” Gov. Kitzhaber called the Oregon legislature into a one-day special session to pass the Economic Impact Investment Act, a corporate tax giveaway custom-tailored for Beaverton-based sportswear retailer Nike, Inc.  The rushed deal and special session were announced last Monday, just four days before the legislature was to consider the bill, and a publicly available version of the proposed legislation was not made available until Tuesday.

HB 4200, which passed the legislature handily on Friday and was signed by Gov. Kitzhaber this week, allows Nike to determine its tax responsibility to the state through the controversial Single Sales Factor (SSF) apportionment method for the next 30 years, whether or not Oregon enacts tax reform during that period.  Nike had expressed interest in expanding in Oregon, but the company reportedly expressed to the Governor that it needed “tax certainty” to commit to growing in the state.  (Make sure to see the Oregon Center for Public Policy’s excellent take on what would constitute true “certainty” when it comes to taxes.)

In its original form, the legislation would have allowed the state to grant guaranteed SSF tax breaks through the Economic Impact Investment Act for a ten-year period, and those deals would have lasted for up to 40 years.  The few accountability amendments passed during the one-day session shortened the amount of time the governor has to strike these tax deals to one year, while also reducing the period during which the tax break lasts to 30 years.

While the bill requires that Nike and any other company vying for the special tax deal invest $150 million and create 500 new jobs, it is silent on wages and other job quality standards.  Significantly, the new law fails to set a meaningful term during which qualifying jobs must be retained by Nike or any other company approved for the sweetheart deal.  It appears that the last 20 years’ worth of basic accountability reforms – now standard practice for most states – are unknown to Oregon’s lawmakers.

The lack of accountability provisions are not the only controversial aspect of the new giveaway.  The Oregonian reported this week that despite the extraordinarily compressed period the legislature was given to consider the bill, the state has been secretly negotiating the deal, termed “Project Impact,” since last July.  You can read the state’s non-disclosure agreement with a company called EMK (presumably a site location consulting firm contracted by Nike to pressure the state) here.

Oregonians are not the only constituency to express concerns about the new law.  Intel, Oregon’s other major corporate employer, was reportedly involved in several heated exchanges with Nike over a particular provision of the original legislation that would have prohibited it from benefiting from the same deal based on the fact that it is already receiving considerable subsidies through Oregon’s Strategic Investment Program.  Unsurprisingly, that provision was removed from the bill.

Oregon, unfortunately, has no such guarantees that economic conditions and fiscal obligations will remain exactly the same in the decades to come.  There are no promises the state can make that protect its residents from change, and this new giveaway means that Oregon cannot rely equally on all businesses and individuals to contribute fairly in the future.

K.C. Business Leaders Demand Cease-Fire on Wasteful Job Poaching

April 15, 2011

In an incredibly rapid private-sector response to our April Fool’s Day gag about that wonderful 50-state jobs truce, 17 prominent Kansas City-area business executives issued a letter this week urging the governors of Missouri and Kansas to stop offering subsidies to companies that are jumping the state line to create “new” jobs (no kidding!)

According to the Kansas City Star, the letter was not initiated by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. A spokesperson for Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback basically said that state would press on. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon is currently trying to convince AMC Entertainment not to jump the state line.

The paper also reported that the job-poaching wars have gotten worse since Kansas enacted a subsidy that allows employers to keep the personal income taxes of their employees (yes, you read that right), but then Kansas reportedly did that to defend itself against a similar Missouri giveaway…

Aside from the K.C. business leaders naïvely referring to their “unique bi-state community” (they’ve apparently not heard about New Jersey and Connecticut pirating New York City, or various Western states plundering Southern California, or northwest Indiana raiding Chicago, or [insert your favorite border job-war here], the letter is a lucid statement of the problem (if not a real solution). I especially like their point: “The losers are the taxpayers who must provide services to those who are not paying for them.”

And contrary to the tone of a similarly naïve piece about Kansas City-area job wars that recently ran in the New York Times, there is hardly anything new about this problem. Indeed, some people would date it to the 1937 birth in New York City of the Fantus Factory Locating Service, the grand-daddy of the secretive, powerful site location consulting industry.

Read this letter!

Apr. 11, 2011

Letter from KC area business leaders to Missouri, Kansas governors on ‘economic border war’

This letter to Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon was signed by 17 of the area’s top business executives: David Beaham of Faultless Starch/Bon Ami; Michael J. Chesser of Great Plains Energy; Ellen Z. Darling of Zimmer Real Estate Services; Peter J. deSilva of UMB Bank; David Gentile of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City; Greg M. Graves of Burns & McDonnell; Donald J. Hall Jr. of Hallmark Cards; Michael R. Haverty of Kansas City Southern; Daniel R. Hesse of Sprint Nextel; L. Patrick James of Quest Diagnostics; A. Drue Jennings, formerly of Kansas City Power & Light; Mark R. Jorgenson of U.S. Bank; Jonathan Kemper of Commerce Bank; Thomas A. McDonnell of DST Systems; Michael Merriman of Americo Life; Robert D. Regnier of Bank of Blue Valley; and Kent W. Sunderland of Ash Grove Cement.

Dear Governor Brownback and Governor Nixon:

The Kansas City community is experiencing an economic border war. State incentives are being used to lure businesses back and forth across the state line with no net economic gain to the community as a whole and a resulting erosion of the area’s tax base. We are asking that you direct your Departments of Commerce to develop parallel legislation to reduce this unproductive use of tax incentives. While your departments work on this legislation, we ask that you both mutually agree to a bilateral halt to the issuance of incentives for business relocations between the two states within the Greater Kansas City area. We recognize that previously offered commitments should be honored and retention efforts and job training efforts should go forward. Let us give you more detail.

Both states offer competitive incentives for attracting new businesses. We support these incentives. We know they are necessary to compete with other states. We believe these incentives were intended to attract businesses and new jobs from outside the state or region. However, because of our unique bi-state community, too often these incentives are being used to shuffle existing business back and forth across the state line with no net economic benefit or new jobs to the community as a whole. At a time of severe fiscal constraint the effect to the states is that one state loses tax revenue, while the other forgives it. The states are being pitted against each other and the only real winner is the business who is “incentive shopping” to reduce costs. The losers are the taxpayers who must provide services to those who are not paying for them.

There are companies taking out short-term leases in hopes of taking advantage of the incentives more than once. This shuffle is a two-way street as one state lures businesses and the other responds in kind. Neither state will benefit as the stakes in this “economic arms race” continue to escalate, and we squander available tax incentives by fighting amongst ourselves.

Further, the effect of this economic border war is not only erosion of the tax base but a decrease in property values, and the chilling of community relationships on other important metropolitan issues.
We applaud an aggressive economic development effort by both states. However, we should measure success by new businesses and jobs from outside this area and the state, not from across the street. We need to compete with others … not each other.

We believe the directors of the Department of Commerce should examine the definition of “new jobs” for the granting of incentives. “New jobs” should be redefined to exclude jobs attracted to the states from counties bordering the state line in the Greater Kansas City SMSA and counties contiguous to those counties.

Greater Kansas City is unique in having a community equally divided between two states. Our community is interdependent. To compete we must cooperate. The use of these incentives is vital to attract new businesses to our region. We can’t grow this community if we’re using our incentives to steal from each other instead of attracting real new economic growth.

We ask that each state examine how incentives can be better used to grow our economy, and while that is being done, declare a moratorium on the use of incentives for relocations between states within the Greater Kansas City area. We do encourage continuing programs for job retention and job training that advance or maintain economic activity.

Thank you for your consideration.

Right questions, wrong decisions on subsidies for big firms in NYC

August 5, 2010

Deloitte has an office in the city's municipal building on the same floor as the City Comptroller

At the New York City Industrial Development Agency’s public hearing last week, two proposals generated notable controversy: one to bestow millions in tax breaks on Big Four accounting firm Deloitte LLP, and another to revive a subsidy agreement from 1998, still worth millions in unused credits, for information services giant Thomson Reuters. This past Tuesday, the IDA board approved both projects, but not before a handful of board members engaged in a robust dialogue with IDA staffers, especially on the Thomson Reuters proposal.

The Deloitte proposal could have benefited from an even more vigorous discussion. For one thing, it smells like the same old game in which companies pit states and regions against each other in bidding wars for investment. As an IDA staffer explained, the agency “took seriously” a “threat” that Deloitte would leave the city for “other opportunities,” namely New Jersey. (Deloitte LLP plans to use the subsidy to help pay for moving its headquarters from one highly prized Manhattan office location—midtown—to another—Lower Manhattan.) And yet IDA staff also reassured the board that the proposal wasn’t about retention, but about growth. As EDC President Seth Pinsky stated, Deloitte will get no benefits until it increases its employment numbers within NYC. (more…)

Smoke and Mirrors on the Hudson (updated)

October 16, 2009

HudsonRiver_Small_021708051148This week, real estate pundits anointed New Jersey the winner when Depository Trust and Clearing Corp (DTCC) rejected a benefits package from New York City and took New Jersey up on its $80 million  nearly $90  million offer of tax breaks to move 1,600 jobs across the Hudson River. The firm, a major clearing house for securities, will keep 700 front office jobs at its Lower Manhattan headquarters.

But did New Jersey really have to fork over all those subsidies? As reported, DTCC claims it didn’t make the decision to move based solely on tax breaks. It’s well known that the business basics of transportation, appropriate space, workforce and access to customers are key in a location decision; without them tax breaks won’t make a difference.

Sadly, when two locations have what a firm needs, site consultants and firms send cities into a competitive frenzy of tax breaks and subsidy offers. But because bidding wars happen behind closed doors, no one knows what the proposals entailed.

New York officials responded, “We’d like all of its operations to be here, but we’d rather use scarce taxpayer dollars to invest in our future than engage in a reckless bidding war with New Jersey.” New York City did engage in negotiations for over a year but DTCC went where many back-office jobs have gone over the years – Jersey City where commercial rents are cheaper.

A startling fact revealed by New Jersey Policy Perspective is that almost $12 million of the $80 million of tax breaks are expected to come from a program not yet fully created much less approved by officials. The bulk of the incentives would come from New Jersey’s Business Employment Incentive Program, (BEIP) which mandate certain job standards. Disturbingly, New York City’s discretionary subsidies are void of any job standards. This should be a wake up call to the Bloomberg Administration that job standards aren’t job killers and start including them in its economic development subsidy deals.

These negotiations are reminiscent of the battles waged between New York City and New Jersey in the 1990’s. You’d think successful businessmen like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine would recognize that playing the bidding game doesn’t benefit anyone but the real estate industry.


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