By Austin Gibbons
Finding balance between economic development, government transparency
Across the country, elected and appointed officials are subject to open government laws so they can remain transparent with their constituents. Georgia is one of many states that has an exemption in open meetings and open records law for economic development based on thresholds for dollars invested and jobs created. This exemption leads to some tension between the many stakeholders who are involved in business recruitment and expansion.
For my Vinson Fellows research project this semester, I took a holistic approach to understanding all sides of this issue by conducting qualitative interviews with journalists, academics, local economic developers, statewide economic developers and individuals in private business. Their contributions gave me with a 10,000-foot view of economic development in our state.
Four development authority board professionals across large, mid-size and small counties provided an understanding of how economic development varies in rural, urban and suburban counties. In smaller counties, community attitudes, press coverage and approaches to development are much different than in larger counties. While 50 jobs may not mean as much in metro Atlanta, those 50 jobs can transform a south Georgia community.
As expected, open government researchers at public universities tend to err on the side of caution. If a business project is truly for the public good, these individuals believe that it should also be open to public knowledge before the deal is signed. To these academics, tax giveaways and other incentives are inherently worthy of skepticism.
Professionals in statewide economic development and a writer for a metropolitan newspaper offered needed context on how the current state open meetings and open records exemption for business recruitment and expansion came into being. They also provided different perspectives on the role of the state in project announcements, risks associated with total transparency and private industry’s expectations for confidentiality.
In addition to the aforementioned perspectives, each interviewee also provided me with a perspective on how the Carl Vinson Institute of Government can improve its transparency training for economic development officials through case studies, roundtable discussions and shifted perspectives on the merits of open government.
I look forward to wrapping up this research in the coming weeks and providing some tangible feedback for the Institute of Government’s future training courses.
Austin is a junior from Stone Mountain, studying political science and public relations with a certificate in public affairs. Austin has held multiple leadership roles in student organizations at UGA, such as The Arch Society, the UGA Wesley Foundation, the Student Government Association, Digital Dawgs and Leadership UGA. After studying in Italy, Austin began serving as a student recruiter for the Center for the Study of Global Issues (GLOBIS). As an Honors Policy Scholar, he researched ways to expand open educational resources at UGA and has done research on the changing demographics of Gwinnett County and Georgia’s 7th Congressional District.