C.T. Marhula, Grand Forks, column: Spin exceeds reality at Centers of Excellence
By C.T. Marhula GRAND FORKS -- The Centers of Excellence program has had much coverage; unfortunately, very little of the Herald's coverage would actually be called journalism. The general pattern is the Commerce Department issues a favorable pre...
By C.T. Marhula
GRAND FORKS -- The Centers of Excellence program has had much coverage; unfortunately, very little of the Herald's coverage would actually be called journalism.
The general pattern is the Commerce Department issues a favorable press release, the Herald runs it as an independently written news article, and the Herald editorial board writes a favorable editorial based on the "news" article. All without one single fact check.
Independent research and requests for public information led me to a different conclusion. The actual results were so different from the implied results, I initiated contact with both the North Dakota State University authors and administrators at UND to let them walk back some of the claims rather than suffer embarrassment. They did not act on the offer.
Herald publisher and editor Mike Jacobs, writing for the Herald editorial board, said the program "is one of the cornerstones of Gov. John Hoeven's economic development policy, and it seems to be on track. ... 2,059 jobs created. ... $48,266 average salary ... lots of good jobs" ("Centers promise results for N.D.," Page D1, Jan. 10).
First, let us look at some of those "jobs created." The Period Review statistics covered 18 months, January 2008 to June 2009. It also had a longer cumulative report. UND submitted all "incubator tenants since January 2005."
Among the jobs Team Hoeven takes credit for: a bank, 14 jobs; a hotel, six jobs; Center staff and teaching jobs, 19; architecture firm, 18 jobs; real estate developer, two jobs; law, consulting, engineering, about 12 jobs.
An airline that had at least $2 million of public money invested that shut down in June 2007 also was included by UND.
The report also claimed additional jobs, about which I agree with Rep. Rick Berg, R-Fargo, that they were work force development, not job creation. Berg stated, "Work force is a critical issue, but I didn't think that Centers of Excellence was about work force, but it was about creating the opportunity for jobs. ... work force initiatives separate. ..."
Other jobs claimed in the report that are more workforce development; KM Manufacturing, 154 jobs; Energy Industry, about 167 jobs; software training, 78 jobs.
In short, the number of jobs created is significantly overstated.
Next, look at the salary claim made by Jacobs. While the governor's Jan. 6 press release does claim annual salaries that compute to $48,266, the report implies -- but does not quite make -- that claim.
The report states, "an average of $48,266 per job -- substantially above the state average."
While partially true, it is very misleading. The Economic Impact Study Data Form used to prepare the report used bold to alert everyone they it was gathering data for 18 months. Thus, they overstated the annual salaries by 50 percent.
If the backup data is correct, the actual annual salaries would be about $32,177.
I still strongly support the Centers of Excellence approach. Give it a healthy dose of transparency, accountability and truth, and someday it may be as successful as Sen. Byron Dorgan's Research Corridor.
Marhula is a former chairman of District 17 of the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party.