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Dr. Judson Edwards: Economic incentives legislation is imperative

Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight.

I have been involved in economic development for over two decades, both as a professional in the field and researcher in the academy. Based on my experience, I can guarantee that every day economic developers are competing, both at the state and local level, for jobs and investments to create wealth and improve the quality of life for its citizenry.

For these economic development professionals, state and local incentives are the common “weapons” used in this economic “battle” that ultimately determines success or failure in attracting, growing, and retaining industry. Thus, to be competitive, the passage of the proposed economic development legislation is critical to the economic present and future of the State of Alabama.

Troy University has been and continues to be a valuable resource for applied economic research.

In fact, Troy was on the front line in the ultimate recruitment of Mercedes-Benz to the  Alabama in the early 1990s, which is the most significant economic development win in Alabama history. The Center for Business and Economic Services (CBES), with research by Dr. Mac Holmes, authored the economic impact study used by the state to determine the incentives package offered to Mercedes-Benz.

Though this study proved to be the most impactful piece of economic impact research originating from the CBES, hundreds of research projects have been conducted on behalf of industry and economic development organizations to inform public incentive decisions.

Recently, the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University hosted an economic forum in Birmingham, where various topics concerning Alabama’s economy were presented. In one of the panel discussions, a presenter not employed by Troy University stated there is “no evidence” that economic development incentives work.

As an economist, I disagree with this statement and believe public incentives are important, among many other factors, in location decisions for new and existing industry.

Unfortunately, it was implied in some media outlets, because the Johnson Center hosted the economic forum where this opinion was shared, that Troy University wholly endorses or shares this viewpoint. This is simply not true. As a university, we provided an open environment where various viewpoints can be shared to advance knowledge and understanding — this is why a university should exist, to seek truth.

The passage of new economic development legislation is essential for our State to remain competitive and advance our capability to attract and retain our industrial base. Our state and local economic development organizations must have these tools to win these economic battles.

Without passage of this legislation, you are asking our economic development officials to bring a knife to a gunfight.

Dr. Edwards is Dean of the Sorrell College of Business at Troy University.

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