Category Archives: Resources

Data and Budgeting for an Effective Economy

Government provided data plays an integral role in decision-making within businesses and government. It is important that the data be obtained and reviewed with a high level of rigor to maintain its integrity. A large quantity of data comes directly from the Federal government thanks in part to agencies such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), and most prominently, the Census Bureau. These agencies are all in line to endure cuts from the Trump Administration’s budget.
Supporters of the Census Bureau have raised concerns that the agency isn’t receiving the funds necessary to adequately perform the decennial Census. Government collected data has long been considered the “Gold Standard” of data resources, and for good reason; these agencies are fiercely dedicated to providing accurate, unbiased statistics. Our country depends on these statistics as a kind of lubricant for our economy; the better the information, the more efficient its operation.

We use the Census to determine how our local constituencies are represented. The BEA produces statistics that measure U.S. economic performance, like GDP. The BLS tracks our national unemployment rate, and the demographic statistics that compose the greater national reporting. Cutting funding for these programs could have negative repercussion to our economy and society.

The impact the Administration’s proposed budget has on the Census is particularly concerning. Compared to years past, the proposed funding ramp-up to the decennial Census is far behind, especially considering the new method the Census is interested in testing. The primary function of the Census is to make record of every person residing in our nation, and the Bureau is working to find better ways to execute the most accurate count possible. The Bureau understands that even a successful Census count, like the one 2010, comes with errors, and they are seeking out ways to improve their processes.

Citizens that change residences frequently can be missed, and those with more than one home are sometimes counted multiple times, or do not respond to the standard data collecting methods at all. This has a direct impact on political apportionment, and we should be encouraging the Census to develop new, modern techniques, not battling for funding that barely allows the Bureau to keep valuable programs like the American Community Survey (ACS) afloat. Using new methods to perform such a daunting task undoubtedly comes with uncertainty, but the Bureau of the Census estimate that investing in updates could save over $5 billion when compared to their traditional data collecting methods.

The BLS and BEA both serve to provide policy and business leaders with essential macroeconomic indicators. Monthly unemployment and national GDP statistics are developed by these agencies respectively. Those two statistical programs alone are immensely powerful, and important decisions, including the allocation of government funding and business development resources, are made with this information in mind.

These two programs aside, the Administration’s budget request explicitly states of the BLS that the Bureau “may need to delay or defer spending on…certain data improvement…and research projects…”, a statement that goes without saying considering the FY18 budget request doesn’t even allow the BLS to cover needed budget adjustments resulting from inflation. The National Economic Accounts, which produces the crown jewel of the BEA, annual GDP, faces a sharp 12% reduction in funding which will require the BEA to do away with developing new programs, like the International Trade in Services initiative, completely. In their Congressional budget estimate write-up, the Department of Commerce reports that, “Without these new data, U.S. businesses, trade negotiators, state and local planners, and other policy-makers will lack critical data to guide future economic decisions.”

Quality government provided statistics are an imperative that transcends the political spectrum; Democrats and Republicans alike can understand the important role that the government has in providing accurate data for the Congress. Members of the House and Senate need to know who they are representing if it is incumbent upon them to advocate for their needs. Further, good statistics are needed by both the private and public sectors. Free markets are more productive and efficient when business decisions are informed with reliable data. Good work from the Federal Statistical Agencies raises all the boats in the harbor. This part of our government is too connected to economic activities that result in jobs and wages to not receive the support it needs. The implications of the work done by agencies like the Census Bureau should be considered paramount to the government’s effort in promoting prosperity.

The Census Bureau requires upwards of $1.8B in FY2018 to perform the preparations necessary to conduct a full decennial Census. This upfront investment will ultimately save money and improve the quality of the data. BLS and BEA also have been facing cuts to vital programs due to a lack of funding and staffing and need your support. Contact your representatives to let them know you want them to support Federal data programs. The Census Project, C2ER, LMI Institute, and APDU will keep you up to date as the budget develops.

CREC Publishes State Data Sharing Report

State governments are demanding more rigorous analysis and evaluation of government funded economic and workforce development programs.  Administrative records, which are data regularly collected through the operation or administration of state or local programs, contain important information on the characteristics and behaviors of companies and workers.  These records, such as corporate tax and unemployment insurance filings, hold great promise to improve program outcomes.

The Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness (CREC) report, Improving State Administrative Data Sharing: A Strategy to Promote Evidence-Based Economic and Workforce Development Policymaking, highlights the legal and regulatory environment, best practices, and reform efforts that encourage safe and secure data sharing in ways that protect confidentiality while improving program evaluation.

As part of this project, CREC collected information about data-sharing issues from 65 national and state experts, supplementing those insights with the development of a database of the actual laws and regulations governing data-sharing in more than 40 states.

The report summarizes the findings from our research and offers a new framework for understanding individual state policies.  States can use administrative records to analyze and evaluate programs to their benefit in a number of ways.  For instance, data sharing helps improve the quality of program evaluation efforts, reduces the costs associated with conducting rigorous evaluations, ensures that agencies can more readily identify potential program related fraud, and provides a third-party source for benchmarking data provided directly to the program agency by client firms or individuals.

Despite these benefits, significant barriers limit data-sharing.  These are also discussed, including state data governance policy, data sharing process management, information technology requirements and limitations, and user understanding and accessibility.

The CREC report recommends that state efforts to encourage data-sharing focus on four areas:

  • Educating state leaders on the value of administrative data and how it can support more evidence based policymaking while reducing government costs to evaluate programs;
  • Encouraging agency leaders and staff to understand that sharing data for appropriate purposes and maintaining the highest standards of data confidentiality are not mutually exclusive;
  • Providing greater visibility to and more resources for agency efforts to streamline data sharing policies and processes; and
  • Establishing more structured and transparent processes for reviewing data sharing requests.

The report is part of a two-year State Data Sharing (SDS) Initiative. While focused on economic and workforce development, the lessons can inform actions in broader policy areas, like education, health, and criminal justice policy. SDS seeks to improve public policy program outcomes by enabling evidence-based policymaking through greater sharing of state administrative records in support of rigorous policy analysis and program evaluation. CREC has also created a website to share information and tools about the SDS Initiative, www.statedatasharing.org.

The Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness is a national nonprofit organization focused on encouraging evidence-based economic and workforce development policy.  The SDS Initiative helps achieve that mission by improving the quality of data to support better decision making.

Addressing the Skills Gap Starts in Your Own Office

NP Employees

A survey from the Chronicle of Higher Education shows that government and nonprofit employers have a more-difficult time with recent-graduate hires. Most of the issues cited involve “soft skills.”

Of the 700 employers in the survey who offered feedback on specific troubles they experienced with recent grads, most mentioned communication and critical thinking. Specifically, the employers stated that they often find candidates who cannot put ideas forward, support those concepts, and build upon them. “Soft skills” don’t just stop with communication and critical thinking. They include collaboration and respect for diversity. All too often, these people skills are becoming the value-add for new hires.

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C2ER Blog Post 11.10.15 State of State

State of State Business Incentives 2015

C2ER recently completed its annual update of the State Business Incentives Database. As part of the database review process, C2ER researched every U.S. state and territory to ascertain information on what programs have been created, repealed or altered during each state’s most recent legislative sessions. Based on this research, combined with extensive outreach to representatives in every state and territory, the Database now reflects the present status of the more than 1,900 state business incentives in operation around the country.

The State of State Business Incentives 2015 report summarizes the findings from this review. Most striking is the overall growth in the number of state business incentive programs. Since the new millennium, the overall number of state incentive programs targeted to businesses has more than doubled, from less than one thousand in 1999 to nearly two thousand today. The report takes a closer look at the different types and purposes of business incentive programs administered by states and how state incentive portfolios have changed over the past few years in response to recent economic trends, with notable examples of recent state incentive activity.

Members of the House of Representatives work toward adjournment while on the House floor during session at the Illinois State Capitol Thursday, May 30, 2013, in Springfield, Ill. Illinois lawmakers scramble to finish up business in their spring session with votes to legalize gay marriage and regulate hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas predicted, but uncertain.(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Illinois’s State Budget Impasse

Passing the annual budget is often a difficult task for state governments, particularly during lean fiscal periods. Over the past few months, Illinois has found resourceful ways to avoid a complete government shutdown after not passing their annual state budget.

The state is making its way through the second month of the fiscal year without a budget. Previously created laws and court decisions require funding to continue for about 80% of state spending, including paying state employees and Medicaid bills. However, many of Illinois’s economic incentive programs have been suspended as the state deals with no full year plan for spending.

Governor Rauner wanted a substantially reduced budget compared to what was passed by the General Assembly in June. The General Assembly’s proposed budget had revenue increases to fix the state’s current deficit, which Governor Rauner was open to if changes were made to workers’ compensation, civil lawsuit damage award limits, and public union bargaining and contracting rules, as well as a freeze on property taxes. Two months later, neither side seems much closer to an agreement. A small sign of progress occurred August 12 when the State House agreed unanimously to free $5.2 billion in federal funding that had been unavailable since July 1st because no budget has been passed.

While the federal funding will help, 20 percent of recently surveyed state social service providers will run out of money in the next few weeks. Along with economic development programs, state universities are also part of the list of organizations not getting funding. ReBoot Illinois has created a continually updating map of people and organizations that have been impacted by the budget impasse.

Newly-elected Governor Bruce Rauner has wrestled with how best to handle state business incentive programs. In April, the Rauner administration lifted the spending freeze it placed upon $100 million in business tax incentives for the state’s Economic Development for a Growing Economy (EDGE) program. The EDGE program provides tax credits to corporations to encourage the businesses to expand their operations in Illinois. To help reduce the state’s current deficit of $4 billion, at the start of June Governor Rauner suspended the application process for any future economic incentives used to attract and grow businesses. These programs have yet to be reactivated.

Illinois’s unusual situation is risky for the state’s economic future if funding for key state economic growth programs continues to stay low. The state’s credit rating will likely be downgraded soon and Illinois was recently ranked last in financial health by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Although no end appears to be in sight, Illinois will eventually have to pass a budget or else face running out of money completely. Until then, the future of Illinois’s business incentive and other economic development programs remains uncertain.

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State Economic Development Program Expenditures: FY2014-FY2016 Update

The Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER) has updated its State Economic Development Program Expenditures Database as part of a continuous effort to track investments in economic development across all fifty states. The database now includes all Governor Recommended Budgets for fiscal year 2016. Read the full report on this update here.

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According to the Database, in FY2016 U.S. states are collectively proposing to spend $6.97 billion on economic development investments, representing a slight dip from FY2015 spending levels. In FY2015, states appropriated $7.05 billion for economic development, which was a 7 percent increase over actual economic development spending of $6.65 billion in FY14. Continue reading

Outstanding evaluation.  Red pen on evaluation, with "outstanding" checked.

Good Programs Destroyed by Bad Evaluations

This is a guest blog post by Dr. Catherine Searle Renault, Principal and Owner of Innovation Policyworks LLC, and Research Fellow at the Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness, where she specializes in evaluation research. 

Who can argue with the importance of understanding whether or not taxpayer dollars are being used effectively to meet agreed upon policy goals like economic growth? Across the country, the concept of regularly evaluating economic development incentives, including those implemented as tax credits, is broadly accepted. The devil, however, is in the details. The best evaluations follow recognized policy evaluation and data analysis methodologies and principles.

In Oklahoma and Maryland, the statutory evaluation is in the hands of evaluation professionals in the economic development agencies, rather than being delegated to a watchdog or audit organization, as is proposed in some states. This ensures that the evaluations are credible and professionally done, and actually answer the questions that the legislatures and the public have. Continue reading

C2ER Blog Post 5.06.15 Picture

New State Business Incentives Glossary

Users of the C2ER State Business Incentives Database have a new resource for understanding some of the tricky terminology used to describe state business incentives. The Database now features a full Glossary with information on every term utilized in the Database.

The Glossary provides information on the most commonly used terms used to describe state business incentives. Researchers can turn to this resource to find more information about different types of incentives, the various business needs fulfilled by incentives, and the statutory and fiscal background of programs. The Glossary also gives more insight into how C2ER researchers decide which incentive programs to include in the Database. Continue reading

Annual Versus Biennial Budgeting

Users of the C2ER Economic Development Program Expenditures Database may notice differences in how frequently the budget for each state is released. This is because states have the choice of using either annual or biennial budgets, meaning budgets released every two years. Therefore, some states will not release their proposed budget for an extra year, or will not release actual budget numbers for more than two years. A number of factors go into why a state decides to use an annual or biennial budget. Continue reading

States propose funding apprenticeships

apprenticeship picAs data from the proposed FY2016 State Budgets are released, C2ER has been updating the C2ER State Economic Development Program Expenditures Database. As C2ER staff review the state budgets that have been released over the past few months, they have been looking for investments in apprenticeship programs.

Here are highlights from Connecticut, Iowa, and Maryland:

  • Connecticut’s proposed FY2016 apprenticeship funding is fairly consistent with FY2015 and FY2014, proposing approximately $575,000 in general fund expenses for the program.
  • Iowa proposed a 9% funding increase for FY2016 for the Iowa Apprentice Program, which is administered by the Iowa Economic Development Authority in coordination with the Office of Apprenticeship at the US Department of Labor. The program was created with the Iowa Apprenticeship Act in 2014.
  • Maryland significantly increased funding from FY2014 to FY2015, with a 60% in state funding allocated to the apprenticeship program. FY2016 included a proposed estimated 6% increase in state funding.

For more information and updates, visit the C2ER State Economic Development Program Expenditures Database. Please note that updates will not appear to users until all FY2016 state updates are complete in June 2015.