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The Right Note: Jobs Retained?

by Mark Kelly August 4, 2016 at 1:45 pm 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark Kelly

This week, Arlington announced its economic development successes for the past fiscal year. The tally: 53 “deals,” 2 million square feet of office space and 4,200 jobs that were “created or retained.” County Manager Schwartz says it’s his top priority.

The release does not indicate how many were created and how many were retained, something that would be good to know in measuring success. Just as when President Obama tried to count jobs he “created or saved,” we should be very leery of an announcement that contains such a qualifier. Maybe the county will provide a breakdown of created versus retained. But it is hard to argue the success of economic development if we are not adding to the job base.

Also, in evaluating jobs that were retained, it would be good to know an answer to the question of why were they going to leave? Were they just making a threat to get a better deal?

Moreover, if we are making special deals to make businesses stay, what about all the businesses who are staying here without getting a government deal? Where is their “piece of the action?”

At any level of government, there is a very real danger to the taxpayer when a handful of government officials get behind closed doors with a business and make a deal. Even with the best of intentions, there is the very real danger that a business will profit and the taxpayers will lose. Look at “deals” like the one Solyndra received from the federal government and what Governor McAuliffe’s GreenTech Automotive did to Mississippi (after they couldn’t get a good enough deal from Virginia).

This leads to the question of why do you have to make deals to lure employers to our community at all?

Sure, some would argue that every state and community serious about landing big employers are offering special deals. But as my dad used to say, just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t make it right.

Why not make our policies so friendly to job creators that they want to come here? If our tax policies, zoning, permitting are reformed, and if we improve their experiences in even little things like submitting online applications and payments, then we can attract and retain businesses without cutting deals.

Creating a more business-friendly environment both attracts new business we want to locate here, but also benefits the ones who have been providing jobs in our community for years. That should be the goal.

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