A recent webinar, Alternative Metrics: New Ways to Communicate Incentive Performance, addressed how economic development leaders can change the way they talk about the impact of their incentive programs. A key priority is to move beyond “jobs, jobs, jobs.” 

Expanding the measures of merit beyond job tallies is necessary because state economic development strategies address many more needs besides job creation. Incentive programs have been evolving to support these additional types of economic development strategies. 

For example, more incentives and programs help small businesses, Main Street businesses, and other local businesses that are important to state and local economies even if they are not creating hundreds of jobs. In addition, programs are being updated and created to help people and places thrive, not just businesses. These incentives may support skills/talent initiatives, site development, brownfield redevelopment, or placemaking programs that invest in Main Streets and neighborhoods. We need to find the right metrics that convey the benefits from these “invest in yourself” incentives. 

But there is a big challenge. There are already dozens of alternative metrics for these programs. We see them in the scorecards and annual reports economic development organizations produce. There is more information about incentive activity than ever before. Still, questions consistently arise about the impact of incentives. So metrics alone might not be the answer. 

The solution, instead, may lie in how incentive metrics are communicated, not just which metrics are used. 

Emily Maher from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and Pete van Moorsel, Research Analyst for the Washington State Legislature, talked with the webinar audience about ways to communicate effectively with elected officials about incentive performance. The primary takeaways from their remarks are: 

1. Leaders want to know if policy objectives are being met. Therefore, it is important to convey the incentive’s purpose, state the connection with economic strategy, and describe how effectiveness is being measured – not just provide a set of numbers. This additional context for incentive use is especially important with new legislators.

2. There is interest in understanding if the intended beneficiaries are receiving the incentive resources.  Details on who is using the incentive and the associated costs also provide valuable contextual information for elected leaders. This means program-wide numbers around job tallies or total investment are not sufficient. 

3. People- and place-based metrics also resonate. Desirable metrics might address job quality, inclusivity, or community benefits. Right now, there is a lot of interest in the costs and outcomes associated with education, credentialing and apprenticeship programs that help individual constituents while also meeting industry needs. Elected leaders also appreciate metrics that respond to community needs and reflect activity that constituents recognize and support.

4. Metrics that enable comparisons across programs are appreciated. Using consistent metrics over time within a state also helps elected leaders understand which incentives are performing well. Metrics that indicate how their state’s incentive programs perform compared to peer programs in other states are also popular. 

5. Providing incentive performance metrics in a variety of formats helps more elected leaders absorb and use the information. Incentive evaluations or performance reports may start with a hefty PDF document, but one-page summaries, shorter web-based reports, in-person briefings, and short videos (the “bite, snack, and meal” approach to providing information) are increasingly necessary supplements. 

For more information on this webinar and additional resources on alternative metrics, please see:

Alternative Metrics: New Ways to Communicate Incentive Performance SEDE webinar

Exploring Alternative Metrics

NCSL State Tax Incentive Evaluations Database

Washington JLARC 2023 Tax Preference Performance Reviews

Redefining Economic Development Performance Indicators for a Field in Transition

Integrating Equity into Incentive Metrics

Showing Impact: Reporting on Federal Funds for Community Development