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Stopping Job Piracy in Dayton, Denver,… and maybe even Kansas City

As I have reported before, job piracy is a big problem in metropolitan areas like New York City and Kansas City. Giving subsidies to relocate existing facilities is a net loss for the country and for the region as well. The flip side is that the existence of job piracy makes it possible for companies to threaten to leave their current location unless they get a subsidy, as Sears has done twice in Illinois. I showed in my book Competing for Capital that several multi-state agreements to end job piracy have been total failures.

A new study by Good Jobs First, “Ending Job Piracy, Building Regional Prosperity,” reports on a couple of success stories. Notably, these have not involved state governments, but take place in two metropolitan areas, in Dayton, Ohio, and in Denver. The study also reports on failed regional efforts in Minneapolis/St. Paul and Kansas City (but see more below).

The oldest of these successes is the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation, created in the late 1980s. Its aim is to promote the entire metropolitan area as a single region, using transparency and information exchange among municipalities to prevent site selection consultants from playing different cities off against one another. All members sign a Code of Ethics committing themselves to these goals.

The Code is not a law, but it does provide for a dispute resolution process in the case of an alleged violation. A complaint triggers this process:

the Chair of the organization will call together three to five members into a meeting with the offender. If the member’s behavior is determined to be inappropriate, the offending individual is asked to issue a public apology or issue a statement to staff correcting their action and guiding future actions.

As the Good Jobs First report points out, dispute resolution has only been invoked three times in the 26 years the agreement has been in effect, and no Economic Development Corporation member has had to be expelled, the strongest sanction available for violating the Code of Ethics.

In Dayton/Montgomery County, Ohio, there are two programs that promote regional cooperation. Economic Development/Government Equity (ED/GE) began in 1991, and provides a $5 million annual pool for “regionally significant projects in the county.” It also shares increased tax revenues with slower-growing municipalities in the county. Applications for the $5 million fund are judged competitively and the process will only consider funding for relocations under very narrow circumstances and only then with a letter of support from the city losing the company.

In addition, all the Montgomery county municipalities, as well as some in neighboring counties, participate in a program called Business First! that promotes the region as a whole and, like Denver’s Code of Ethics, requires information sharing when a company is seeking to move within the region. Business First! also provides for a transitional tax-sharing agreement when there is an intra-regional move.

The new report emphasizes the need for engagement with economic development officials, because they actually do the work and they represent the institutional memory necessary for these agreements to remain viable in the long term. As always, transparency is a key element that is a precondition for accountable governance.

In addition to these success stories, potential good news on the job piracy front came out of Missouri last week. On July 1, Democratic Governor Jay Nixon signed a bill passed by the Republican-majority legislature that would disallow the use of state incentives to firms relocating from four Kansas counties to the four counties that make up the core of Kansas City, Missouri. This represents a dramatic turnaround from 18 months ago, when both Nixon and Kansas Republican Governor Sam Brownback told New York Times reporter Louise Story, on camera, that they would continue poaching from the other state.

Missouri’s law takes effect only if Kansas passes a parallel law. As Kansas City business leaders have pointed out, the two states have given more than $200 million in tax breaks for relocations, only to see a net 400 jobs move to Kansas. Unfortunately, so far Kansas leaders have given no indication that they will follow suit. However, the Missouri law gives Kansas until August 28, 2016 to do so. Hopefully, some sense will prevail in Kansas by then.

Cross-posted at Middle Class Political Economist.

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Job Piracy Marches on in Alabama

Unmentioned in the recent Good Jobs First report on job piracy, it turns out that both relocation subsidies and retention subsidies are commonplace in Alabama. Greg Varner (@varnergreg) directs me to this report on how a Birmingham auto dealership, Serra Automotive, is demanding a multimillion incentive deal to keep it from relocating to another municipality in the metro area. As Birmingham News columnist John Archibald tells the story:

Across the Birmingham area cities spend tens of millions of dollars on incentives. Sadly, it is rarely to draw new opportunity or gain new blood. Instead we spill blood, as competition for existing businesses in the region pits city against city.
It happens all the time.
Birmingham commits millions to steal a hospital from Irondale, and St. Clair sweetens a deal to lure a coffee maker out of Jefferson County. Birmingham outspends the suburbs to take a Walmart, and the escalation continues.
We love the smell of industrial recruitment in the morning. And it gets us frustratingly  nowhere.
We beat each other senseless. For a zero-sum game.
Because the city – the cities across the Birmingham area – pay to keep what they already have. Taxpayers lose and the region gains no jobs.

Here we have an example of the intra-metro area job piracy that Good Jobs First covered in its 2011 report on the Cleveland and Cincinnati metro areas, Paid to Sprawl. It would be interesting to see if Birmingham shows the same tendencies as those two regions, where most moves, even from one suburb to another, put facilities further from the city center. My guess is that’s exactly what we would find.

And I should emphasize, as the most recent Good Jobs First study does, that the state of Alabama knows how to put anti-piracy provisions in state subsidy programs. The very first entry on p. 45 of The Job Creation Shell Game shows Alabama’s Enterprise Zone Credit program as containing no-raiding language. Since cities are legally the creation of states, it’s time for Alabama to clip its cities’ wings and force them to stop this completely indefensible intra-state job piracy. The same holds true in many other states.

Cross-posted from Middle Class Political Economist.

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Billions for job piracy even as states cut budgets

According to Center on Budget and Policy Priority data cited by Louise Story, in 2011 the states enacted $156 billion of austerity measures, between budget cuts and tax hikes. Despite their budgetary woes, however, this did not stop them from throwing billions of dollars a year into the worst kind of corporate subsidy, relocation incentives that move existing facilities from one state to another without creating any new jobs. A new report from Good Jobs First documents their widespread use, which is far more common than most people would imagine.

One great aspect of this report is that it goes beyond the two examples of interstate border wars we hear the most about, New York-New Jersey-Connecticut and Kansas-Missouri. We learn about Texas and Georgia vs. the world, North Carolina-South Carolina (especially in the Charlotte metro area), Tennessee-Mississippi (particularly with Memphis as target), and Rhode Island-Massachusetts. In addition, we learn more about the flip side of job piracy, retention subsidies, of which Sears’ two in Illinois are the most egregious.

For example, Continental Tire moved its North American headquarters and 320 jobs from Charlotte to Lancaster County, South Carolina, in 2009. Georgia gave Ohio-based NCR Corp. (formerly National Cash Register) $109 million to relocate that same year. In 2010, Hamilton Beach received at least $2 million to move from Memphis to Olive Branch, Mississippi, while in 2009 McKesson received $4 million from Mississippi in addition to local incentives to move from Memphis to neighboring DeSoto County. Rhode Island, in a widely publicized move, gave Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling’s video game company 38 Studios a $75 million loan to move from Massachusetts in 2009, only to see the  firm go bankrupt in 2012. There are many more examples in the report, but you get the idea.

The existence of relocation subsidies makes it possible for companies to demand incentives to stay in a particular state, i.e., retention subsidies. Two of the three largest ones went to Sears in Illinois, $168 million in 1989 and another $275 million in 2012 when the 1989 deal expired. The second largest was $250 million to Prudential Insurance from New Jersey in 2011. But many more states have had to shell out retention subsidies on a regular basis.

The report notes that at least 40 states know how to write no-raiding language into their subsidy programs, because they already have such language banning intra-state relocations from receiving subsidies under various programs. However, as far as I know, far fewer states prevent their cities from giving relocation subsidies to in-state firms, though the report shows that Maine’s Employment Tax Increment Financing rules do provide that.

What is necessary, the report argues and I wholeheartedly agree, is that states need to tweak their program language to stop rewarding interstate job relocation as well. They need to stop efforts to directly poach existing firms, something Texas is heavily engaged in. The report says there is a “possible” federal role here, to withhold some Department of Commerce monies from states that engaged in job piracy. I, on the other hand, think that federal action is the only way it will happen. As I’ve written before, voluntary state efforts in the 1980s and 1990s to end job piracy have been utter failures, and the states clearly need an outside enforcement mechanism, which can only be provided by the federal government.

With such extensive documentation of how widespread relocation and retention subsidies are, hopefully more people can be mobilized to get the federal action we need.

Cross-posted from Middle Class Political Economist.

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