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CBA Moves Forward in Pittsburgh

October 1, 2008

Pittsburgh has joined the list of cities with community benefits agreements. The plan is moving forward after the Pittsburgh City Council gave its blessing to the agreement, which was signed by several public entities as well as community groups and a private company. The One Hill CBA Coalition negotiated the deal with the owners of Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team, as well as the City of Pittsburgh, AlleghenyCounty and the county Sports and Exhibition Authority. The $750 million project includes a new arena for the Penguins and redevelopment of the arena where the team currently plays.

The One Hill CBA Coalition was formed in April 2007 when city and county officially agreed to subsidize a new arena for the team in the city’s Hill District. The Coalition consists of 97 community groups, church groups, small businesses and historic preservation groups. Carl Redwood, Jr., Chairman of the Coalition, told me he wanted to make sure the development was beneficial to Hill residents: “We needed to determine our community’s future and development projects that fit into our plan.”

Pittsburgh UNITED, a chapter of the Partnership for Working Families, played a crucial role in the coalition’s success by mobilizing allies from around the city. For instance, the group organized a bus tour for progressive allies and for members of the media to show them areas of the Hill that would benefit from a CBA. Ultimately, the media started talking about the importance of family-sustaining jobs, community involvement and giving workers freedom to organize.

Local elected officials and the owners of the Penguins were originally resistant to the idea of a signed CBA. After months of public actions and press coverage, the Penguins and the elected officials had no choice but to bargain with One Hill. Subsequently, the final negotiations involved community leaders, County Executive Dan Oronato, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Penguins President David Morehouse.

The CBA will involve the people who live in the Hill District in numerous ways and help to rebuild their infrastructure and economy. First, the Penguins and the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority will each provide $1 million for a locally-owned full-service grocery store in the district. Additionally, residents will have access to a local employment center that gives district residents access to jobs created at the new arena and the redevelopment project that will pay $12 to $30 an hour. The CBA also calls for the creation of the master planning committee which sets forth development guidelines. Along with the construction of a community center for youth, families and seniors, the Hill District will also see the creation of a Neighborhood Partnership Program centered on social services for the neighborhood.

While the CBA is seen as a victory, Redwood admits that there are some people in the community who feel the agreement did not go far enough given the $290 million subsidy. Redwood emphasized the need to continue community involvement: “To have a victory like this is important but we need to build upon it.”

Will North Carolina have Nothing to Show for Its Dell Subsidies?

September 9, 2008

Public officials in North Carolina and several other states are reeling from the revelation that Dell is considering the shutdown or sale of its assembly plants. The news that the computer maker is considering an exit from the manufacturing side of the business came in a front page story in the Wall Street Journal. Dell has not denied the report, which said the company might sell some of the plants to contract manufacturers and shutter the rest, but it has not provided specific details on its intentions.

Anxiety about Dell’s plans is especially intense in North Carolina, which went to great lengths in 2004 to put together a state and local subsidy package worth more than $250 million for an assembly plant in Winston-Salem. The deal was negotiated by the Department of Commerce and pushed through the state legislature in a special session with scant debate or analysis. The incentives package included a computer manufacturing tax credit, job investment grants, tobacco settlement fund grants, training incentives, transportation infrastructure grants, workforce development grants, sales tax refunds, waiver of property tax for 15 years and 200 acres of free land. In 2004, Governor Mike Easley estimated that the Dell plant would employ 8,000 people; so far, however, it has hired only about 1,150.

Along with the Winston-Salem plant, Dell owns 11 other manufacturing and distribution centers in Austin, Miami, Nashville, Brazil, Ireland, China and Poland.

Last March, however, Dell closed its facility in Round Rock, TX eliminating 900 jobs.

According to the Journal, Dell is in talks with manufacturers in Asia, who could either operate the plants on a contract basis or buy them outright. It is unclear whether those contractors would be willing or able to operate plants such as the one in Winston-Salem. A key complication would be the subsidies. There is no apparent precedent in North Carolina for transferring incentives to a new owner, which might not want to take on the job-creation provisions of the deal.

Dell spokesman David Frink has declined to comment on the report, instead stating, “we will continue to evaluate and optimize our global manufacturing and distribution network.” Bob Leak, president of Winston-Salem Business Inc., the local economic development agency, said he was not aware of any changes to Dell’s future in Winston-Salem.

In their negotiations of the Dell deal, North Carolina, Forsyth County and Winston-Salem bent over backwards for the company. They assumed that throwing subsidies, tax breaks and other incentives at a successful corporation was a smart economic development tool. Now they may regret putting so many of their eggs in one corporate basket.

Indiana City Enacts Clawbacks Extending Past Tax Abatement Period

September 4, 2008

A growing number of state and local governments are applying clawback provisions to economic development subsidies to be sure companies live up to their job-creation promises. Unfortunately, these provisions are not always enforced and usually are unenforceable after the subsidy period has expired.

The city of Portage, Indiana (east of Gary) recently took the unusual step of strengthening its clawback provisions relating to business tax abatements so that they remain in effect for five years beyond the duration of the abatements. The Portage City Council approved the new rules after growing frustrated at the number of companies that were leaving town after the abatements expired.

“A lot of times, we made investments, and companies got up and left,” Edward Gottschling, Portage City Council Member told Good Jobs First. “We want businesses that are going to stay here, not ones that will pick up and leave after abatement period ends.”

The new rules also strengthen the ability of the city to seek payment of abated taxes even during the subsidy period. Companies are required to provide an annual report to the City Council with the number of employees and level of wages to ensure that they are following the stipulations of their application. The penalties for infractions include discontinuation of the abatement and repayment of remitted taxes. The current abatements are grandfathered in and are not subject to the new clawbacks. If a company wants to apply for an additional abatement, however, they are required to meet the new requirements. As Donna Pappas, Clerk Treasurer of the City of Portage told me over the phone, “We’re trying to develop a diversified economy within our municipalities and at the same time look out for our residents and this is going to help us.”

A similar clawback provision is on the books in Ohio, where a company receiving state income tax abatements must stay at its original location for at least twice the number of years as the term of the tax credit. Other cities would be wise to follow suit and enact similar provisions to hold companies accountable to communities.

Accountable Development Victory in New Jersey: Major Project to Include Housing and Job Quality Standards

August 5, 2008

The redevelopment of the Military Ocean Terminal in Bayonne will now promote good jobs and affordable housing in northern New Jersey. Much of the credit for this goes to the Garden State Alliance for a New Economy (GANE), which persuaded local officials to include job quality and housing affordability language in a Request for Proposals (RFP)to redevelop the decommissioned army facility.

The $10 billion 16 million-square-foot mixed-use redevelopment project—which is expected to create some 3,000 waterfront residential units, up to 1,000 hotel rooms and commercial and light industrial space—is eagerly anticipated in the community. Kate Atkins, executive director of GANE—a recently formed affiliate of the Partnership for Working Families —said involvement in the project was too important to pass up: “It will have a major impact on the region’s economy for many years to come.”

Representing a coalition of five unions and four community groups, GANE testified at local redevelopment authority meetings and held meetings with Mayor Terrence Malloy and other local officials. According to Atkins, “The coalition has been united on making sure that throughout the project the larger public benefit is really kept in mind–for example, making sure that construction jobs are good union jobs, and the permanent jobs are also high quality jobs.”

GANE’s goals are not only to educate public officials about their capacity to set high standards for developers, but also to send the message that it is possible to promote economic development that is financially beneficial to the community both in the short-term and in the long-term.

While GANE is pleased with its impact on the RFP, its job is not done. The group will monitor the process of selecting the developer to make sure that the project continues to promote equitable economic development.