Friday, May 13, 2011

Headed the wrong way on destructive Missouri-Kansas border war

Kansas City Star Editorial:

The economic development border war between Kansas City and the state of Kansas is promoting the kind of competition that could be mutually destructive. Yet everyone feels forced to play the game, even if it’s not rational.

Mayor Sly James this week entered the fray, pledging that Kansas City would fight back against efforts to poach its businesses. That was a shot at Kansas, which rewards some companies for moving a few miles over the state line.

Kansas City officials hope that Missouri soon will offer its own incentive program to reward companies that are threatening to move a few miles to Kansas.

Unfortunately, the net economic result of all the recent publicly subsidized activity has been pretty much a big, fat zero for the region.

And have we mentioned yet that neither state is exactly flush with cash right now? Both have slashed funds for schools and social services, even while handing over millions of public dollars to private corporations.

James this week also helped kick off an effort to retain businesses in the city. That will entail a lot of effort by local corporate leaders and some politicians to keep their ears to the ground and find out when businesses are thinking of expanding or possibly leaving. Then economic development officials supposedly should be able to swoop in and help find ways to keep the businesses in Kansas City. Sounds good, unless a lot more public incentives are involved.

In his remarks, James pointed out that Kansas City, as well as Overland Park, Olathe and other area cities on both sides of the state line, ought to be competing to attract companies from other states. That would bring real economic growth to the region, with new jobs and homeowners.

Seventeen top area business leaders recently signed a sensible letter asking Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon to help halt the use of unreasonable incentives. That’s a powerful, positive message worth heeding. Both states should prohibit lavish subsidies just to shuffle businesses from one side of the state line to the other.

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