CLBR #313: Cities and the Battle over Tech Companies with Greg LeRoy
Original Air Date: October 10, 2018
Dubbed “the leading national watchdog of state and local economic development subsidies” and “God’s witness to corporate welfare,” Greg founded Good Jobs First in 1998 upon winning the Public Interest Pioneer Award. He has been training and consulting for state and local governments, associations of public officials, labor-management committees, unions, community groups, tax and budget watchdogs, environmentalists, and smart growth advocates more than 30 years.
Greg backed into subsidy reform accidentally, while creating a national consulting practice against plant closings from Chicago from the early 1980s through the mid-1990s. He is associate producer of the 1984 PBS documentary The Last Pullman Car and consulted for state agencies in Illinois, New York, and Washington State. His 1986 Early Warning Manual Against Plant Closings (upon which he trained all 50 states’ Dislocated Worker Units under contract to the U.S. Department of Labor) and his 1989 study “Intervening With Aging Owners to Save Industrial Jobs” (the first study to quantify the risk of job loss due to a lack of succession planning) set precedents that guided many public agencies and non-profits.
Numerous plant closings he worked on involved abuse of economic development subsidies; factories that had received past incentives were now being shuttered. Usually, the fine print revealed that such abuses were technically legal; those revelations lead to public outrage and the enactment of clawbacks and other safeguards to prevent future waste. Sometimes there was a basis for legal challenge: in 1987, Greg wrote a study that triggered the City of Duluth’s successful lawsuit against Triangle Corporation; the nationally-reported verdict arrested the closure of that city’s largest factory, Diamond Tool, based on an Industrial Revenue Bond contract. Between 1990 and 1992, he assisted the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers in Elkhart, Indiana in their multiple-abuse lawsuit against American Home Products that settled for $24 million on the eve of trial.
Collecting the reforms prompted by these revelations (clawbacks, disclosure, job quality standards, etc.), Greg wrote No More Candy Store: States and Cities Making Job Subsidies Accountable in 1994. It was lauded by the International Economic Development Council as “very impressive research” and reviewed by the National Conference of State Legislatures a “famous polemic that contends that subsidies for economic development are mere corporate giveaways, and that calls for greater accountability and public restraint.”
Founding Good Jobs First in Washington, DC in 1998, partnering with the Fiscal Policy Institute to launch Good Jobs New York in 2000, and welcoming the Corporate Research Project in 2001, Greg has built a full-service resource center for constituency-based organizations and public officials seeking to reform economic development. Since its first report in 1999, Good Jobs First has issued more than 100 studies, setting a long string of influential research precedents about economic development subsidies.
Good Jobs First’s 50-states-plus-DC “report card” studies, such as “Show Us the Subsidized Jobs,” have made it de facto the arbiter of best state and local practice in transparency (disclosing deal-specific costs and benefits online). It is also the go-to source on best practices for job creation and job quality standards, and for enforcement including “clawbacks,” or recapture safeguards. Led by research director Phil Mattera, Good Jobs First research analysts Leigh McIlvaine, Tommy Cafcas and Kasia Tarczynska monitor subsidy news in all 50 states and provide front-line technical assistance.
In response to GJF’s 2003 study, A Better Deal for Illinois, that state enacted the nation’s best subsidy disclosure system. In 2005, New York City enacted the best local disclosure ordinance in the nation (enhanced in 2010) after repeated agitations by Good Jobs New York’s Bettina Damiani with the NYC Industrial Development Agency.
Greg’s 2005 book The Great American Jobs Scam: Corporate Tax Dodging and the Myth of Job Creation (Berrett-Koehler Publishers) was widely reviewed by daily newspapers, specialty tax and development publications, C-Span’s Book TV, The New York Review of Books, Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. Business Week called it a “powerful compendium of corporate tax dodging in the U.S.” and State Tax Notes wrote: “meticulously documented …scrupulously accurate …evocative storytelling…”
He has book chapters in Building Health Communities: A Guide to Community Economic Development for Advocates, Lawyers, and Policymakers (American Bar Association, 2009) and Breakthrough Communities: Sustainability and Justice in the Next American Metropolis (MIT Press, 2009).
Greg summarizes the job-creation benefits of smart growth for working families in this article in Urban Habitat’s Race, Poverty and the Environment entitled “Public Transit and Urban Density Create More Good Jobs.”