Thursday, December 20, 2007

Tonight's funding request: "1SI wants us to pay them to tell us to do the same things we've already been doing."

(By NAC's Jeff "Bluegill" Gillenwater)

Challenge for the evening:

Since One Southern Indiana (1SI) is claiming credit for helping to create 631 jobs in New Albany and the council's funding resolution is predicated on that job creation as justification, Michael Dalby or whomever else shows up to speak on 1SI's behalf should be readily able to explain how their involvement directly caused the company expansions and job increase or why they wouldn't have happened otherwise.

They can't, and that's a problem.

I've been shuffling through the 1SI list of new jobs and matching them up with Tribune stories about the companies' respective expansions. Over and over again, it's apparent that 1SI had little or nothing to do with the expansions and, when they did have some small influence, it was usually in directing the employers to further tax breaks and grants, sometimes to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars for already well-established, successful companies to create more mostly low paying jobs.

The wage/profit discrepancy discussed here earlier in the month (see comments here) is a lingering invisible elephant, especially when taxpayers are asked to shell out around $16,000 to create $18,000-a-year jobs and 1SI continues to tout low wages as a draw for outside companies. In fact, low wages, tax abatements and what is described as little local propensity for unionization are recurring themes in 1SI’s pitch to prospective businesses.

Meanwhile, Globe Mechanical's owner cited industry changes to explain increased business and the need for expansion. Hitachi got a new contract with GM to provide hybrid vehicle parts. Conforma Clad, same type of story. L&D Mail Masters was already planning on expanding and creating 20 news jobs. They decided, according to their owner and 1SI board member Diane Fisher, to create an additional 20 to 26 only after getting additional tax breaks and a tax funded grant. (1SI is claiming credit for all 46 projected jobs).

Samtec and Beach Mold and Tool have been in business for decades, steadily growing all the while. Now whenever they expand like they have for the past 30 years, 1SI will take credit.The companies themselves negotiate the deals that make those expansions a possibility and city staff and taxpayers most often handle the real work of facilitating them with planning, zoning, infrastructure improvements, and tax breaks.

In other words, 1SI wants us to pay them to tell us to do the same things we've already been doing.

And, it’s worth noting that when Michael Dalby addressed the board of Develop New Albany in February, he said that 1SI has a strong preference for the redevelopment of the urban core over continued outward growth.

That'd be great if it were true. First, they've named the bridges project, an initiative that nearly everyone I've spoken with (including pro bridges folks) and fifty years of history suggest will encourage outward sprawl, as a top priority.

Second, a glance at their web site shows that the very first words that appear in the sites/building section with regard to available commercial and industrial space in the region are "Southern Indiana has ample greenfield sites ..." The page goes on to talk mostly about suburban and exurban industrial and business parks.

That's not exactly language that reflects Dalby's claimed preference. It reflects the exact opposite. In fact, there is nothing in 1SI's language or actions anywhere thus far that reflects that preference; a further examination of the web site in late November revealed that of the 86 properties that 1SI was currently promoting at the time, only seven of them are located in downtown, urban areas. That's a 12 to 1 ratio in favor of suburban and exurban spaces.

If 1SI were serious about its commitment to the community, they would be facilitating legitimate public discussion about development and how best to approach it rather than trying to pass off bogus numbers as qualification for the status quo and impetus for their own expansion.

So far, they've chosen to rely on the latter while involving themselves in other questionable dealings - a sad testimony on the "vision" they promised as part of their restructuring.

Editor’s note: The preceding thoughts were originally posted in the “comments” section earlier today. I have edited one paragraph and appended words of Bluegill’s that appeared in a comment in November. I hope nothing was lost in translation, but the thoughts involved are important, and I opted for speed in posting them ... RAB.


Iamhoosier said...

Perhaps a little overstated but in short:

Figures lie and liars figure.

G Coyle said...

I cant wait to hear what 1SI has to say tonight...