Officials Defend GLI After Lackluster Review From Brookings

by Gabe Bullard on August 10, 2011

Tomorrow, the mayors of Louisville and Lexington will announce the details of a study from the Brookings Institution on the potential for a super region between the two cities. The last Brookings study of Louisville was critical of several economic development efforts, including the city/county merger, the Bucks for Brains program and the creation of the modern chamber of commerce, Greater Louisville Inc.

The study came out in June. It looked at how various cities fared from 1980 to 2005, and found that Louisville’s growth was driven almost entirely by package carrier UPS. The report also concludes that job growth wasn’t accompanied by a corresponding increase in wages, meaning high-paying jobs left and low-paying jobs took their place.

It also found that GLI’s claims that it’s turning Louisville into an economic hotspot aren’t yet proven and may be “largely rhetorical.”

“It doesn’t grow our city. It doesn’t help our city. People don’t come here. Companies don’t come here,” says activist Curtis Morrison, who has campaigned to cut GLI off from city funding. He says the Brookings study and reports that show Louisville lost 35,000 jobs in the last decade should be enough to make the city pull its $1 million allocation to GLI, which formed in 1998.

“What we need to do is take care of our streets, animal services, fixing our potholes, taking care of our parks. That’s the stuff that lures 21st Century businesses into our communities,” says Morrison.

“Well I think anyone who says that is oversimplifying things,” says Mayor’s spokesman Chris Poynter.

Poynter adds that the Brookings study brings some interesting facts to light, but the study doesn’t reflect the last six years. During that time, he said, GLI brought jobs to Louisville, despite being hampered by the national economy.

“There’s always room for improvement and the mayor wants them to improve, but we think they’re doing a great job,” he says. “If you look solely at what has happened in the last few months that GLI has been a partner in the table at. One, the Ford jobs. Two, the GE jobs.”

“There may have been some time in the very beginning that it took to get the momentum going, but I’ve been at GLI for nine years and I disagree with the assertion that there was nothing but rhetoric that happened from 2000 to 2005,” says GLI spokeswoman Carmen Hickerson.

Hickerson says any lackluster economic development performance was likely driven by the national economy and poor education. She particularly points to the Bucks for Brains program. It provides fundign to bring experts and research to universities. The Brookings report showed that it did achieve that goal, though the economic benefit of doing so was unclear.

“Bucks for Brains has been a very, very successful program. I think every way you’re able to look at it, the investment has paid off multiple times over,” says Hickerson.

The city is currently reviewing its economic development strategy and exploring possible changes. That’s something the next Brookings study may recommend as well. And not all of the city’s allocation for GLI has been given out. The Metro Council will review the agency’s progress in January before awarding the remaining $500,000.

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