Its time to review our economic development priorities
The day it was announced that A. J. Wright was closing its distribution center in Fall River, I was in city hall meeting with the mayor. We were talking about education and employment and the challenges of raising educational attainment in a small city.
It was about an hour before the announcement went public and I don’t think Mayor Flanagan knew what was about to hit him. Eight hundred jobs is a lot of jobs lost in a community that has seen its share of tough times in recent years. But as Ed Glaeser pointed out in the fall 2010 issue of CommonWealth, the Fall River region’s low educational attainment level has impacted the region’s high rate of unemployment. It is a message you have heard many times before—the better educated have managed to make it through this recession.
Now the much touted Evergreen Solar is about to close and there goes another 800 jobs. Secretary Bialecki tells Steven Syre in Friday’s Globe—in a must read column—that our final tab will be less than half of the $58 million in state subsidy. If my MCAS math is correct, that’s $29 million, a lot of money down the tubes at a time when money is, to say the least, tight. Meanwhile, in Fall River, the former A.J. Wright workers are being helped with a $700,000 emergency grant. Something just doesn’t seem to add up here.
It’s time for the state to undertake a serious review of its economic development policies. Our new Auditor Suzanne Bump should conduct a thorough investigation and cost/benefit analysis of tax expenditures provided to businesses. Everything should be on the table, from the much “praised” film tax credit to tax incentives approved at the local level. At the same time, perhaps the Legislature should use some of its own oversight authority and conduct a hearing on the Evergreen Solar failure. A good primer to start with is this Going for Growth report by my MassINC colleague Ben Forman.To the Administration credit, they have tightened up on who gets tax credits under the Economic Development Incentive Program. But still, by shedding some light on what happened we might learn a few things about how to better structure our economic development policies going forward (hint: stay in school).