Evaluations, Good and Not So Good

It’s evaluation week here at Innovation Policyworks LLC. First, a paper (http://www.ncsl.org/research/labor-and-employment/prove-it.aspx)
I co-wrote with Ken Poole, CEO of the Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness (http://creconline.org/), has just been published in State Legislature, the journal of the National Council of State Legislatures (NCSL). In our paper, we argue that evaluation of state economic development investments is important, but fraught with challenges, and we recommend several approaches to improving accountability in the use of state tax dollars.

Second, Ken and I, among others, are launching a new program with the Pew Charitable Trust called the Business Incentives Policy and Practice Initiative to work with six states to develop better tools for evaluating the effectiveness of tax credits and other business incentives. Right now, we are reading proposals from sixteen states to choose who can participate in the program. It’s fascinating to see the range of experiences. Most states that have significant incentives do a great job of evaluating the projects up front. The challenge is collecting information after the fact to see if the incentives actually helped companies achieve the promised results in terms of job creation and investment. There is a significant challenge in balancing the company’s proprietary information, confidential tax returns and the public’s right to know about how tax dollars are being spent.

Third, the latest Maine evaluation of both the R&D investments and overall economic development programs has just been released. (http://www.maine.gov/decd/reports-pubs/) As the designer of the research methodology used from 2000-2012, I read the newest report written by a firm with no experience in economic development evaluation with great interest. I will spare you my analysis of this incredibly amateurish offering. It is quite disappointing.

Finally, members of the state science and technology community are discussing the evaluation of university technology transfer programs. Illinois just released a report (http://www.illinoisinnovation.com/innovation-index/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/III_2013_Q4_V6.pdf) on start-up companies from its universities. One very neat piece of the analysis was a ranking of the university patents by an outside firm on commercial applicability. Illinois found that they have very strong patents, but need to work on getting those patents licensed and commercialized, a common challenge.

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