Monday, July 22, 2013

State's job creation efforts need transparency

Posted By on Mon, Jul 22, 2013 at 2:00 PM

click to enlarge lesley_stedman_weidenbener_-_mug_-_the_statehouse_file.jpg
When state officials first began debating whether to create a semi-public agency that to handle the state's job creation efforts, the red flag went up among reporters and others that try to track what goes on in government.

It's not that those of us who work in the Statehouse press corps know much - if anything - about economic development.

I didn't know then and don't know now whether the Indiana Economic Development Corporation - the entity that grew out of those discussions - is better for job creation than the former Department of Commerce.

I recall that Republicans generally argued that the IEDC would have more authority to raise and spend private funds and than a state agency and could therefore more easily plan trade trips or create programs that encouraged businesses to locate or expand in the state.

But what I remember worrying about then is whether the corporation would be subject to all the same public records rules as other agencies and whether - with more business types involved in the operations - they'd comply with those rules even if they were applicable.

Certainly, the semi-private corporation seemed unlikely to be terribly transparent.

I'm thinking of that now as The Indianapolis Star reveals that Elevate Ventures, private company hired by the IEDC to manage the state's investments in startup companies, sent some taxpayer money to the firm's chairman and son.

Gov. Mike Pence - who was not in state office when the IEDC was created or when it contracted with Elevate Ventures - has ordered a review of the situation. And the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Inspector General is auditing the contract as well, according to The Star.

The revelations come after several years of reports that the IEDC was releasing data to the public that took credit for jobs promised but never actually created - and after countless attempts by reporters and others to try to get a peek at the success rate of companies that received government incentives.

It's important to say that reliable information about state incentives, economic development deals and job creation have always been tough to come by. There were plenty of questions about the deals done by the former Department of Commerce.

When Republican Mitch Daniels was running for office in 2004, his campaign raised legitimate concerns about the data then-Gov. Joe Kernan's administration was using to showcase Democratic job-creation efforts.

Daniels promised that once elected, his economic development agency would be more transparent. But it didn't feel that way to reporters trying to parse the new administration's own data.

But now, with so many questions lingering, Pence and lawmakers seem to be concerned about transparency as well. The governor's move to review the Elevate Ventures deal is almost sure to lead to some changes in the way similar contracts are handled in the future.

And earlier this year, the General Assembly passed legislation - backed by Pence - to make jobs data and economic development numbers more available to the public.

Meanwhile, the Pence administration is working on a new transparency website meant to give the public more information about the IEDC.

If that's done well, it can only be a positive for Indiana taxpayers - and reporters as well - who've had enough with secrecy surrounding one of the state's most important roles.

Lesley Weidenbener is managing editor of, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.

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