Saturday, February 09, 2008

Minn. rural economic effort "something of a mess"

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's main program for rural economic development lacks oversight and gives large tax breaks to places and businesses that may not need them while doing little for the neediest rural areas, Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles said yesterday.

"The 100-page evaluation of JOBZ that the state government watchdog issued is the first official examination of Minnesota's four-year-old business tax-break program -- the largest state-run business subsidy program in Minnesota's recent history," Jennifer Bjorhus writes in The Pioneer Press of St. Paul. She says it is "something of a mess," and delivers quite a litany:

"The program doesn't target the rural areas most in need, the standards for eligibility are too loose and the subsidy agreements themselves often don't require companies to add a meaningful number of jobs or even retain existing ones, the report concludes. There's so little oversight of the program, which is largely left to local communities to run, that some companies have continued to receive subsidies even after they exit the program. . . . JOBZ hasn't created that many new jobs, either, according to the report." (Read more)

The report isn't wholly critical of the program. The auditor "credits it with attracting some business into Minnesota and keeping other businesses from leaving," writes T.W. Budig, state-capital reporter for ECM Publishers of Coon Rapids. (Read more) In any event, the report counds like might offer some ideas for evaluating other states' rural economic-development programs. To read it, click here.

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