Is it coincidental that our region’s job creation organization, Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities (TREO), ceremonially announces Sept. 10 it is no longer taking support dollars from Tucson, Oro Valley, Sahuarita and other municipalities the week after the Tucson City Council asked for more accountability? We think not.
The City of Tucson has been moving away from TREO since Mayor Jonathan Rothschild was sworn into office in December. City Councilman Steve Kozachik was the first to sound the alarm bells and began beating the drum for more accountability and fewer “pie in the sky” presentations about what the future holds.
TREO initially came to the council this month with another one of its song-and-dance presentations and was sent away with instructions to bring back specifics.
They were specifics TREO didn’t have. We know that because we contacted TREO and asked about it ourselves and were directed to the media page on its website. We printed every press release going back to when TREO was launched in 2005. We counted the “jobs created” and did the math. It turns out the numbers don’t match with what TREO now claims.
16,000 jobs or 3,166?
According to its press releases, since 2005 the number of new jobs from new companies has totaled 719. TREO takes credit for 2,447 additional jobs from companies that were already in the region and expanded. Was TREO responsible for their hiring efforts? Who knows, but we’ll give them credit for the jobs anyway.
A number of press releases talked about a company bringing in “x” number of new jobs with the potential for “xxx” number more jobs in the future. That happened just last month when the biotech firm Accelr8 announced it is relocating from Denver to Tucson with plans to create 65 jobs within three years and up to “300 in subsequent years.” To meet its first year incentive benchmark, it has to create 15 jobs.
In our book, potential doesn’t pay the bills, reality does. Real numbers are needed to justify $13.7 million local governments have put into TREO over the years. (TREO’s total budget has been $16.3 million.) We give TREO credit for 3,166 actual jobs in the key areas it has identified for itself — bioscience, logistics, solar, aerospace, and manufacturing. Not call center or mining jobs.
We found that as funding pressures mounted, TREO took credit for more and more jobs. In fact after the news media scrutiny following its May junket to San Diego and a booze cruise around the bay, the number of jobs created by TREO jumped to 16,000, from 10,550 just a year ago.
Did TREO actually help create 5,450 industry-targeted jobs in the last year?
To get an idea, let’s bring in data from noted University of Arizona economist Marshall Vest, who in his annual mid-year forecast in June said that since August 2010, there have been 800 jobs created in the Tucson region. That’s 800 jobs total, across all industries. TREO claims 7,598 new jobs during that same period.
Pima County doubles down
Now the only government entity still funding TREO is Pima County. Supervisor Sharon Bronson has been a co-chair of TREO’s board since the inception of the organization. She has seen millions of dollars go to the agency.
By most accounts, jobs is the No. 1 issue, both nationally and locally. Statewide, Arizona ranks No. 4 in job creation according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor. AOL ranks the state No. 2 for future job growth. But most of that is happening in Maricopa County, where Vest says 69,000 jobs have been created since 2010, compared to Pima County’s 800 jobs.
You’d think Pima County government might recognize that whatever they’ve been doing hasn’t worked. The Town of Marana recognized that three years ago when it stopped funding TREO. This year, the City of Tucson began asking the tough questions and magically the “funding formula” changed.