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When you can’t untie the Gordian knot, cut it.

That’s what Ellen Shepard (executive director of the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce) and Michael Shuman (author of The Small-Mart Revolution: How Local Businesses Are Beating the Global Competition) propose with regard to the big-box wage ordinance. It was a no-win decision: pass the bill and lose jobs to the burbs, or veto the bill and endorse poverty-wage jobs. “This quandary could have been avoided,” they write, “if the city’s eggs had been in the right basket all along–with an economic development policy emphasizing locally owned business.”

Until now we’ve been doing the opposite. Shuman and Shepard cite the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group’s Tax Increment Financing Almanac (available here; they’re referring to pages 48 and following), which found that “of the $237 million in money from tax-increment financing (TIF) that funded commercial projects outside of the central Loop, only about $2 million had gone to developments that benefited local small businesses.” Most of the money went to shopping centers, big box retail, movie theaters, and corporate office space. A single Home Depot received more than $3 million in taxes  (“we can do it, you can help”).

“A smarter policy by the city would be not to waste another penny–whether in the form of grants, loans, loan guarantees, industrial bonds, capital improvements, or TIFs–on nonlocal business. Precious taxpayer dollars should be reserved exclusively for the local businesses we know contribute the most to the city’s well being.” (Background on this theory in the Andersonville Study and in my article in the July 7 Reader.)

Meanwhile, we have civic slapstick. A city that’s pumped millions into big-box-centric economic development is shocked–shocked!–to learn that the beneficiaries don’t pay well. And big-box retailers who’ve received millions from City Hall are shocked–shocked!–when City Hall asks for a quid pro quo.

If the jobs are that bad, why subsidize them? If they’re necessary stepping stones that require subsidies, then why not direct the subsidies as Shuman and Shepard suggest, to locally owned businesses that have actual roots here and aren’t going to pull up stakes whenever they don’t get their way?