Most business incentives don’t work. Here’s how to fix them.
From Brookings Institute
In 2017, the state of Wisconsin agreed to provide $4 billion in state and local tax incentives to the electronics manufacturing giant Foxconn. In return, the Taiwan-based company promised to build a new manufacturing plant in the state for flat-screen television displays and the subsequent creation of 13,000 new jobs.
It didn’t happen. Those 13,000 jobs never materialized, and plans for the manufacturing plant have been consistently scaled back. Even if the project had gone through as planned, there is no way the Foxconn subsidy would have made money for the state, or provided earnings benefits for residents that exceed its costs. It now appears that few of Foxconn’s promises will be fulfilled, even though local governments have gone into debt over the project.
From 1990 to 2015, the size of these types of business incentives tripled. Foxconn-level incentives would escalate them another 10-fold, to 30% of state and local tax revenue. Such a surge threatens public services and the social safety net, turning a tool used to promote jobs and growth into a political and economic disaster.
Research suggests that at least 75% of the time, typical incentives do not affect a business’s decision on where to locate and create jobs—they’re all cost and no benefit. Furthermore, even when incentives do tip a location decision, they do not pay for themselves. They may create new jobs, but frequently they also bring in new workers from outside the city or state, which raises costs to public services that offset at least 90% of any increased revenue.
On average, only 10-30% of new jobs go to state residents who are not already employed. Only when new jobs increase employment rates—thus boosting local earnings and putting upward pressure on local wages—can they provide large and broadly shared local benefits.