After learning about the tax credit failure in Moberly that may cost the city millions, a TV station in Kirksville decided to check on a state tax incentive program in their area. In 2009, the state’s Department of Economic Development (DED) awarded a $1 million loan to a company called Wi-Fi Sensors.
In what now appears to be standard operating procedure, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon visited Kirksville to announce the loan and to tout the promised jobs. His office also issued a press release, stating that “with Action Fund loans, high-tech companies like Wi-Fi Sensors can create quality jobs and help jump-start our economy.”
Furthermore, according to the governor’s press release:
The loan will allow Wi-Fi Sensors to expand its operation in Missouri. Under the terms of the loan, the company guarantees the creation of 40 new jobs and new investment of $4,069,000. While guaranteeing a minimum of 40 new jobs, Wi-Fi Sensors representatives believe they may create as many as 100 new jobs through this expansion.
Sadly, the TV station visited the Wi-Fi property on Monday, and found nobody. According to its report, Wi-Fi missed its first payment to the state in November 2010.
This sounds similar to the situation in Moberly. As you’ve read on our blog, the sucralose production company, Mamtek, promised more than 600 jobs and millions in investment to the city. The state promised millions in tax credits, and the city of Moberly backed $39 million in bonds for the projects.
And yet, Mamtek recently failed to make a debt payment, leaving the city on the hook for the money, and had not created the promised jobs.
Missouri senators are planning to investigate Mamtek, according to the Associated Press. Specifically, they want to investigate the DED’s role in the project.
But our state senators shouldn’t assume that Mamtek is an isolated failure. Tax incentives frequently fail to produce the jobs promised, and there have been many state audits and incidents suggesting that all is not right at the DED. Wi-Fi Sensors looks like the latest example.
We don’t have to look too far into the past to see other failures and near failures. Late last year, a company in Cape Girardeau promised 135 new jobs – if the state would kick in about $2 million in tax credits. It turns out that the head of that company was convicted of passing more than $90,000 in bad checks.
Policy Analyst Christine Harbin wondered at the time whether she should spend her time at the Show-Me Institute running tax credit recipients’ names through the Missouri courts database to see if she found any other matches.
Then, of course, earlier this year the DED awarded millions to a company for a development project that the courts had ruled as ineligible.
Like Chrissy, the Wi-Fi Sensors case has me tempted to go through the governor’s press releases touting job creation to see which projects are currently operational. Sadly, for Missouri taxpayers, the Mamtek and Wi-Fi failures suggest several others may have failed.