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New Nashville bill sheds light on city incentives to big business

Including undisclosed bids for Amazon’s new headquarters


Planners, business councils, and local leaders across the country have strived to land one of the biggest economic development opportunities of the decade: Amazon’s HQ2, a second base of operations for the company promising 50,000 jobs.

The frenzied nationwide competition has led to a score of creative bids and attempts to woo the e-commerce giant.

It’s led to many million-dollar bids and incentive packages from big cities. Or, in many cases, assumed multi-million dollar packages, since in many cases, due to non-disclosure agreements, residents don’t know what kind of breaks and benefits are being offered in their name.

Numerous cities, including Louisville, Kentucky, St. Louis, Missouri, and Washington, D.C., have previously declined to offer key details of their bids.

Nashville, which has made its own bid for the tech giant, may have a solution to the lack of transparency around this corporate dating game. As reported in Next City, the Metro Council recently passed a “Do Better” bill, which would require companies angling for incentives to make public how many residents they’ll hire, wages they’ll pay, and their history of safety violations.

The bill passed despite objections from members of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, who were concerned about forcing companies to reveal safety and wage practices.

Promoted by lead sponsor Councilman Anthony Davis, the bill was inspired by a lengthy Nashville Scene investigation that exposed how secretive the city’s bid process for Amazon had become. The December article noted that despite repeated efforts and public records requests, the paper was unable to obtain much information. Even more troubling, members of the Metro Council expected to vote on the package hadn’t seen details, either.

Corporate tax breaks and economic development deals have become important and increasingly common tools for municipalities to court new factories, corporate headquarters, and jobs. Amazon itself has been estimated to have benefited from more than $1 billion in tax abatements, credits, exemptions, infrastructure assistance and financing deals, according to analysis by Good Jobs First and the Institute for Local Self Reliance, approaching Wal-Mart’s tally of roughly $1.2 billion in similar benefits.

With a continued reliance on public incentives for new stadium deals and large manufacturing facilities (see the multi-billion dollar Foxcon deal in Wisconsin), it would seem timely to introduce ways to make sure the public is fully aware of how its money is being spent for promised economic benefits.