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“A hell of an expensive lesson picking winners and losers”

Corporate welfare, or financial assistance from government to private businesses, has long been a game that is played in Delaware economic development. Unfortunately, this is a game that the state struggles to win.

Perhaps the most notable failure was Fisker Automotive, an California hybrid electric car company that received $21.5M in 2009. The deal, announced by Gov. Jack Markell and Vice President Biden, was intended to bring around 2,500 green jobs to the state. As time went on, the state had to cover utilities for the flailing company, and it was clear the deal had been a mistake.

Fisker never made a single car in Delaware.

Determined to continue giving away money, the state passed a bill in 2011 that put Delaware on the hook to energy company Bloom Energy until 2032. Part of this deal was a $12M grant given in 2012, on top of nearly $130 million in energy surcharges paid be Delawareans in the first 5 years alone.

Dan Simmons, former vice president of policy at the Institute for Energy Research, believed Delaware’s deal was unusual:

“Bloom was given a whole bunch of incentives and the surcharge, which is very strange. It looks like Delaware was doing everything it could to give Bloom money.”

But for the First State, aggressive incentives for major businesses is par for the course. In 2017, when the company was forced to repay the state $1.5M for failing to meet the proposed goals of the grants, legislators called the deal an “economic disaster” and “a hell of an expensive lesson picking winners and losers.”

That lesson faded quickly from memory.

Solenis,Amazon, and many more were given taxpayer dollars from Delaware’s Strategic Fund after it was clear that the massive Bloom deal was bust in 2017. Most recently, the state awarded $2.5M to British bank Barclay’s to bring 323 call center jobs into Delaware.

The kicker? This is only a year after the company moved 500 jobs out of Delaware into New Jersey, and 3 years since Barclay’s initially took 200 jobs from the state by closing another call center in Newark.

This announcement came as many businesses within the state are still awaiting help related to COVID-19, and some are forced to close their doors permanently. It’s a slap in the face.

While the state’s history of sweetheart-deals-gone-bad is enough to question the practice, since 1997, Delaware has given almost $500M in taxpayer dollars for business subsidies and grants, despite evidence showing that the main factors in a business’ decision to locate or expand in a state are the state’s business climate, tax codes, regulatory structure, labor force and education systems.

A Better Delaware would tend to these factors instead of continuously blowing money bribing companies to pick our state, only to under-perform or up and leave shortly after. Fixing these issues would improve the state overall, and use taxpayer dollars to help the taxpayers, as well as economic development.