New Audit Finds State's Economic Development Agency Gives Lots of Goodies But Fails to Measure Results

The state paid as much as $800,000 in subsidy for a single job.

Oregon Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins today released her audits division's look at Business Oregon, the state's economic development agency.

Business Oregon seeks to recruit and retain businesses and help existing operations grow through a variety of grants, loans and tax breaks. The agency will hand out $680 million in the 2015-17 budget cycle, with the biggest chunk of that going to property tax breaks for Intel's research and manufacturing facilities in Washington County.

The new audit says Business Oregon doesn't do a good enough job of justifying the tax-season gifts it hands out.

Related: Emails Show Former Gov. John Kitzhaber approved state loan that helped troubled businessman Sho Dozono.

"Transparency initiatives have improved Oregon's reporting of economic development incentives and loans given to individual businesses," said Atkins in a statement. "But our auditors found that even with these improvements, policy makers and the public still do not have enough information to assess the value and identify the recipients of many of Business Oregon's economic development awards."

Business Oregon often competes with similar agencies in other states. A persistent criticism of such competitions is that employers play states off against each other and end up with subsidies that cost more than the benefits the new jobs provide.

Today's audit will do little to quell that criticism. Here's the most eye-catching number in the audit, from a section on a regular occurrence in recent years—the battle to attract massive server farms.