Indianapolis' Job Figures May Not Always Add Up

Ballard Bristles At Questions About Job Commitments

Indianapolis' job commitment claims may be more wishful thinking than reality after a six-week investigation of claims made in January by Mayor Greg Ballard and Develop Indy, the city’s economic development arm.

In January, the city announced that it had secured 8,737 new job commitments from 73 companies in 2010, touting the number as the highest number of new job commitments in a decade.

6News' Kara Kenney found that less than a quarter of the commitments are enforceable.

Twenty-two percent of the now 72 companies have a written agreement with Indianapolis to receive tax breaks, meaning that the city can hold the company accountable if the jobs don't come to fruition.

That means that 1,634 of the more than 8,700 job commitments have a written agreement with Indianapolis. Twenty-two of the 72 companies have no written agreement at all with the city or state.

Morton Marcus, former director of the Indiana Business Research Center, said the city's press releases regarding job creation are self-serving.

"Public officials want to make themselves look good. They want to make their administration look good, and they're going to use every device they can, short of outright lying," Marcus said. “The numbers tend to be, I wouldn’t say imaginary, but hopeful. Sort of like a Christmas wish list.”

Records indicated that nine of the 72 companies didn't promise new jobs, only jobs to be retained in Indianapolis.

Companies that have written agreements with the city have between two and 10 years to bring the job promises to fruition.

“I think the public should be careful about believing every press release that comes out of the mayor’s office or governor’s office, no matter who the mayor is or governor is,” said Marcus.

The mayor’s press office declined 6News requests to sit down with Mayor Greg Ballard to discuss job commitment figures, so 6News caught up with him at a public event Thursday.

Ballard defended the city's figures, saying he does not feel they are misleading.

"That's the paradigm we inherited. That's what the previous administration did. That's what the city has done for a long time," Ballard said.

Some of the city's listed job commitments have written agreements with the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, not the city, although both sides said they work together on bringing jobs to the area.

"Everything starts locally anyway. They're in the city of Indianapolis. We work with the state all the time," Ballard said. "Kara, it's the paradigm."

Ballard walked away before 6News could ask more questions, including how many jobs he feels realistically will come to fruition.

Develop Indy’s President and CEO Scott Miller agreed to a 6News interview.

“We think we've been good stewards of the taxpayer dollars," said Miller, who explained many companies don’t want to accept incentives.

“There are costs involved, they have to pay a fee to file for a tax abatement, and they may say that fee outweighs the benefits they’re going to get,” said Miller.

Miller explained when a company does not sign an agreement with the city, that’s the best case scenario because the company does not receive taxpayer dollars.

“We think the best thing we can do is for a company to come to Indianapolis, and yet not ask the city for any incentives,” said Miller.

6News requested documentation showing what Develop Indy did to recruit those 72 companies.

Develop Indy provided a spreadsheet that said they’ve helped companies with grants, data analysis, workforce assistance, site selection and bonds.

Develop Indy representatives said providing any other documentation would be considered competitive information that could be used against the city when it comes to economic development.

Miller said 8,700 jobs is a realistic figure.

“I wouldn't have put it out there if I didn’t (feel it’s accurate)," said Miller. “Anything we do publicly, we feel like it’s defensible. Our hope is to actually exceed the 8,700 job commitments. There may be 9,500 or 10,000 job commitments that come to fruition. "

Marcus predicts that about 30 percent of the 8,700 jobs will actually come through, citing the economy as one reason. Marion County has lost 35,000 jobs since December 2007.

“The county’s lost jobs because so many companies in Indiana are engaged in manufacturing products that are no longer in great demand,” said Marcus.

“Job commitments are the greatest way to lower the unemployment rate we have,” countered Miller.

For companies that have written job commitments with the city, they’re required to submit annual reports showing their progress.

Some of the 72 companies with 2010 job commitments were required to have at least some of the jobs created by December 2010, but those reports are not required until May 15.

6News requested those reports and hopes to sit down with Ballard to discuss job commitment numbers soon.