Amy’s Work on Community Benefit Agreements

Publication: Coalition for Economic Justice

Greg LeRoy Calls on Harbor Corporation to Negotiate a Community Benefit Agreement

Buffalo, NY — Greg LeRoy, A nationally noted author and expert on economic development incentives, stood with Canal Side Community Alliance members today to support their call for a Community Benefit Agreement (CBA). On the heels of President Obama’s White House to Main Street tour stop in Buffalo, LeRoy called on the state-appointed Harbor Corporation to help New York’s economic recovery by meeting clear standards for job creation and job quality, energy conservation and support for local, ‘Main Street’ businesses.

LeRoy is the founder and director of Good Jobs First, a national organization that promotes accountability in economic development. Good Jobs First provides research and training to community groups and public officials working to guarantee that companies receiving aid from state and local economic development agencies create quality jobs and promote sustainable economic growth. LeRoy has a particular interest in Bass Pro, having researched and written on big-box retailing and taxpayer subsidies.

“Most retail jobs are poverty-wage and part-time, not good enough for boosting a recovery,” said LeRoy. “Taxpayers have a right to expect that jobs they subsidize do not create hidden costs in the form of Medicaid, food stamps, and Children’s Health Insurance.”

The Canal Side Community Alliance, made up of over 40 local organizations, has called on the State’s Harbor Development Corporation to meet with community representatives to negotiate a Community Benefit Agreement. The Buffalo City Council echoed this call with the passage of a unanimous resolution to halt a critical land transfer until an agreement is reached with community groups. To date Jordan Levy of the Development Corporation has refused to enter into negotiations.

The 20-acre Canal Side project currently has a $294 million price tag, with taxpayers responsible for $154 million in subsidies, not to mention other tax breaks that will likely be given through the state’s oft-criticized Empire Zone program and through the Erie County Industrial Development Agency. Advocates for a CBA argue that the public investment in the project warrants specific guarantees that the community will benefit from it.

“We are facing an economic crisis in New York State and across the country,” said Patty DeVinney, field coordinator for the WNY Area Labor Federation. “We are in desperate need of good jobs. We can ill-afford hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on this project if we aren’t guaranteed something of long-term value in return. The WNY Area Labor Federation believes that a CBA is the best way to do this.”

The need to create decent jobs in return for large public subsidies was echoed again by Canal Side Alliance member Steve Deisig, a representative from Hispanics United of Buffalo.

“Buffalo is the third poorest large city in the country,” Deisig said. “This poverty is concentrated in our communities of color. The primary reason for poverty in our region is that work doesn’t pay. We have entire neighborhoods that are struggling as a result. We need to ensure that we are creating good jobs and that significant minority hiring goals are being met so that those most in need have access to them.”

Amy Kedron of Buffalo First, an organization of independent business owners, reiterated that the goal of responsible development should be to maximize positive impacts in the local community.

“We want to make sure that local independent businesses play a major role in this project because they keep three times more money in the local economy,” Kedron said. “Also we want to make sure that the Canal Side project brings more money to the local economy than it draws from it. The best way to ensure this is by enforcing a Community Benefit Agreement, which is the taxpayer’s only money back guarantee that the project will truly be a success.”

In addition to the afternoon press conference, Greg LeRoy delivered his message of support for a Community Benefit Agreement to a crowd of over 250 people gathered at the Buffalo-Niagara Convention Center Thursday evening for the Coalition for Economic Justice’s annual awards dinner.