Report: ND ranks low in transparency for economic-development programs


BISMARCK, N.D. — State economic development programs got one of the worst ratings in the nation, according to a new report from Good Jobs First, which describes itself as “a national policy resource center for grassroots groups and public officials, promoting corporate and government accountability in economic development and smart growth for working families. ”

The report, called “Show Us The Subsidized Jobs,” gave North Dakota an overall score of just four out of a possible 500 points for online disclosure of economic development programs, a 4 percent rating. The state got zero points for disclosure efforts on income tax exemptions, jobs training programs, Renaissance Zones policies and wage salary credits.

The state did score a 20 out of a possible 100 points for online reporting of North Dakota Development Fund activities.

“We appreciate suggestions on how we can continue to improve the transparency of North Dakota’s business incentives,” Sandra McMerty, senior marketing and communications Manager for the North Dakota Department of Commerce, said of the report in an email response to questions. She also pointed out that the state is disclosing some information online, though not in a searchable format that meets Good Jobs First’s standards.

“Over the last couple of years we’ve taken steps to improve our transparency, including posting a Business Incentive Accountability report online,” she said. ”While this is not a searchable database, which is what the Good Jobs First information looks at, it does disclose much of the information cited in the report, such as: business that have received incentives, the amount of the incentives, and the jobs created.”

McMerty said the state has projects in the works to increase transparency.

“Transparency is something we continually work to improve,” she said. “The Department of Commerce is working to improve transparency by transferring the incentive data outlined in the Business Incentive Accountability Report into a database that will eventually allow us to post this information online, in searchable format much like the ND Development Fund database cited by Good Jobs First. The process of building this database is due to be completed by 2015, at which time plans to web enable the data will be made.”

In 2009 the state Legislature approved a bill introduced by Rep. Blair Thoreson, R-Fargo, creating a database of all state spending on the Office of Management and Budget website. It includes a record of spending going back to 2007. A second bill introduced by Thoreson to include local government spending in that database was defeated last year.