Still Stealing You Blind: Ann Arbor SPARK Spends $7.7M & Creates 79 Jobs
by Rob Smith
The 1 percent here in Ann Arbor are just different than us. They look at out-of-work folks and hungry children, homeless men and women tossed out of Camp Take Notice, struggling small businesses and cash-strapped school districts, and then light their clove cigarettes with other people’s $100 dollar bills. They feel good about the work they’re doing to “create jobs” here in Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County.
Whether you’re a Dem or a GOP supporter, jobs and the Michigan economy are probably close to the top of your list of what you’d like to see Michigan pols work on. Our state has lost hundreds of thousands of jobs over the past decade—most of them in the manufacturing field. While Ann Arbor’s unemployment rate has never rivaled that of, say, Detroit, the local economy is not particularly diversified, with the University of Michigan keeping the city afloat. The loss of Pfizer, still felt, is proof enough of that. Unfortunately, Michigan officials have spent, literally, boat loads of money to pick winners in the job creation field, and the taxpayer money giveaway is not creating jobs.
In Ann Arbor, the results are comical. The members of the SPARK Board, self-styled and mostly white captains of industry, real estate, music, publishing and even job creation, have never been able to get actual jobs created. First, these community leaders relied on cranking out annual reports that read like Fairy Tales.”Yo, Mofos, us Big Shots created thousands of jobs for your sorry unemployed Ph.D.ed asses. Here in Ann “We Be Better Than Detroit” Arbor we got us some J.O.B. S.” Cue up the news cameras.
The annual reports cranked out by Gov. Snyder and his boy Michael Finney were Pure Michigan Fiction.
When Gov. Rick Snyder was the head of SPARK, he claimed the group helped create and retain over 12,000 jobs in Washtenaw County over a two year period. That claim was a exploded by a feature in a Detroit newspaper that revealed the state’s “job creation engines” including SPARK, had helped create fewer than 800 jobs, total, in the two year period Snyder’s bogus claim of 12,000 was included in SPARK’s 2009 annual report. A2Politico reporting has helped push Ann Arbor SPARK into producing less fanciful job creation numbers, finally. Jobs created went from 12,000 in 2009 to 600 in 2011. There are many reasons to doubt even the 600 number.
Over the past several years, Ann Arbor SPARK has siphoned millions of dollars away from the public schools through a TIF scam approved by Ann Arbor’s Mayor and City Council. First a financing authority was created (the local LDFA), then the LDFA is funded through tax-increment financing (TIF) similar to the way the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority is supported. A TIF district allows authorities like the LDFA and the DDA to skim the property taxes levied in the TIF district. The local LDFA then contracts with Ann Arbor SPARK for “business development services.”
Looks great on paper. Sounds good at a cocktail party. Jobs. Jobs. Jobs. In practice, the LDFA and Ann Arbor SPARK have done little but rob taxpayers, public schools and the District library of millions of dollars. SPARK’s job creation numbers are suspect because the company has never allowed an outside audit, but rather fills out its own report and hands that over to the LDFA.
How’s that working out for ya, Ann Arbor?
Cap Con reporters Jarrett Skorup and Matthew Needham took a close look at the latest Michigan 21st Century Jobs Fund annual report. It was some interesting reading and should be on the summer list for everyone concerned with cuts made by the local school district. Here are the results of $8 million in taxpayer money going to SPARK, according to the Cap Con reporters:
A state fund intended to create 390 Michigan jobs has loaned $7.7 million to 35 companies and created 79 jobs — only 20 percent of the number initially promised.
Ann Arbor SPARK received an $8 million grant in 2006 to create the Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund, which used $7.7 million of that amount. The grant was awarded as part of the Competitive Edge Technology Grants and Loans program, which exists “to encourage the development of competitive edge technologies to create jobs in the state.”
Since 2006, Ann Arbor SPARK has created six figure paying jobs for their own employees, and with the $8 million in taxpayer money only created a fraction of the jobs promised. The problem is, obviously, a total lack of accountability. Politicians appointed to the SPARK Board of Directors, including the Mayor of Ann Arbor, the Mayor of Saline (now looking to head to Lansing and the State House) have done nothing to protect the interests of the taxpayers from the multi-million dollar scam that is Ann Arbor SPARK. Instead pols rub elbows with the head of the University of Michigan Musical Society, as well as the VP of AnnArbor.com, pat each other on the backs, and together piss away millions like there’s no tomorrow.
Cap Con reporters asked SPARK VP Skip Simms about the fact that only 20 percent of promised jobs had been created. Here was Simms’s biz-no-babble answer: “We saw a need for early stage capital for start-up technology based companies, which the private sector wasn’t providing at the time.”
That’s biz speak for: “Hands in the air, Big Boy. This is a stick-up.”
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