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Financial Documents used to entice Amazon to come to Grand Rapids finally released, but 103 pages still missing

March 9, 2018

On Wednesday, the Right Place Inc. held a press conference and released 5 pages of financial information about the plan to attract the online sales company, Amazon, to open another headquarters in Grand Rapids.

The 5 pages of financial incentives are linked here, with a summary of the various options and the price tag in the graphic on the right.

It is clear that the financial incentives that the Right Place Inc, Grand Rapids, the Ford International Airport and Wyoming were offering was substantial.

News coverage of the newly released documents was covered by most commercial media outlets, like MLive and WOODTV8, but these news sources primarily focused on the dollar amounts of the proposals pitched to Amazon.

However, an article in MiBiz, does a much better job of asking important questions from the Right Place Inc executive Birgit Klohs. 

The MiBiz story states:

Klohs said the organization’s decision to release the incentive information stemmed from Freedom of Information Act requests news outlets filed with the MEDC.

This is not how we’re used to it,” Klohs said. “Sharing this kind of information … is extremely rare. And to be quite honest, it’s not in our best interest to share some of this information.”

The MiBiz article also offers additional insight into the issues, by citing a report from the far right Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the Good Jobs First group, which tracks taxpayer subsidies around the country. 

This kind of reporting is important in that it does not simply echo the information that the Right Place Inc wanted to share, it asked more pressing questions and provided other perspectives.

However, what is still not know, is why the other 103 pages of the proposal that was submitted last year have not yet been released. If public tax breaks were part of the equation and public land (which was revealed in the document), why has the entire document not made available to the public?

As we reported in January, the massive tax breaks issue is also echoed by Neil deMause, who was interviewed on Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting’s radio show, CounterSpin

“I think that clearly paid off for Musk and Tesla, to the tune of $1.4 billion. So I’m not really surprised that Jeff Bezos and Amazon are looking at something similar here, and I think, given what we’re seeing from what’s leaking out about some of the bids (which are not public) for Amazon, it looks like they’re going to be looking at some kind of tremendous taxpayer windfall as well.”

deMause goes on to say:

“And, this is what really is driving the bidding war so crazy, what Greg LeRoy talks about, is that you’re seeing these crazy numbers being thrown around, because it’s not like there’s another company down the road that you can say, well, if we don’t get Amazon, we’ll just get the second-best thing to Amazon, because there is no second-best thing to Amazon. It’s Amazon or the highway.”

Sure, there would have been new jobs provided by the company, but Amazon has a track record of having many of their workers needing to rely on Food Stamps, just to get by. 

However, the lack of transparency is what is particularly troubling in this case, especially since public funds and public land we part of the deal.

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