Foss: Take economic development report seriously

Hundreds of job seekers line up for a job fair in Schenectady in 2016.
Hundreds of job seekers line up for a job fair in Schenectady in 2016.

You get what you pay for. 

It’s a cliche, but one that rings true. 

If you want better service, or results, you might have to shell out more money. A new car will cost more than an older one. A luxury apartment will cost more than a studio or one-bedroom. A big TV will cost more than a small TV.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. 

When it comes to New York’s spendthrift approach to job creation, taxpayers are definitely not getting what they pay for. 

The state spends an exorbitant amount of money on economic development, but job growth is anemic. There’s little connection, it seems, between the amount of money poured into economic development programs and job growth.  

According to a new report from the watchdog agency the Authorities Budget Office, industrial development agencies are providing more tax exemptions for projects that are expected to create fewer jobs. 

If this is true — and the ABO report acknowledges that some of its findings might be inaccurate, because its data is incomplete — taxpayers should be up in arms. 

They should be asking why these much-ballyhooed job-creation efforts aren’t generating more jobs — and whether a different strategy is needed. Right now, the strategy might best be summed up as “give businesses whatever they want, and hope for the best.” 

The results, as one might suspect, are spotty. 

Between 2013 and 2017, there were three IDA-assisted projects in Montgomery County, and jobs ticked up 6.5 percent. In Schoharie County, two projects received assistance, and jobs ticked up 7.6 percent. In Saratoga County, 21 projects received aid, and job numbers rose 9.2 percent. In Schenectady County, 15 projects received help and jobs rose 1.2 percent. 

These numbers aren’t all bad — some of them are, in fact, quite good — but you’d be hard-pressed to find a logical connection between the number of projects that receive aid from local IDAs and county job growth. 

Counties that spend more, such as Schenectady, don’t necessarily see more job growth. Counties that spend less, such as Montgomery, sometimes fare better.

The ABO acknowledges its report is flawed due to incomplete data, but that’s no reason to dismiss its findings, which are in line with other reports assessing the effectiveness of publicly-funded economic development programs. 

These programs often make a splash, but deeper research suggests that there’s a gap — sometimes a big gap — between what they promise and what they actually achieve. 

There has to be a better way to do things. 

But unless we take critical reports such as the one compiled by the ABO seriously, we’re never going to figure out what it is. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

Categories: Opinion, Schenectady County

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