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August 20, 2014 3:13 PM Ribbon Cutting

By Ed Kilgore

There’s an interesting flare-up in the Georgia governor’s race that casts light on a disgusting phenomenon that’s especially though not exclusively common in the South. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Greg Bluestein has the story:

A part of Democrat Jason Carter’s economic pitch is a pledge to “professionalize” the state’s business recruiting office.
The Atlanta state senator said he wants to launch a nationwide search to find a “top notch” head of the Georgia Department of Economic Development rather than make what he views as a political appointment.
It’s a dig at Gov. Nathan Deal’s last two appointments to the post: Chris Cummiskey, a former Mirant executive who was a longtime GOP operative, and Chris Carr, who was U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s chief of staff. Carter has said he has no ill will toward the men, but that another leader was needed to better sell Georgia.
“Right now the economic development office is essentially a political office,” he said Tuesday. “They set up ribbon cuttings.”

Deal and his minions fired back with chagrin at the terrible demagogic criticism of their hard-working smokestack chasers.

Carr said his office is “proud of each and every one of those ribbon cuttings,” which have led to about 100,000 jobs since 2011 and nearly $17.7 billion in investments. To suggest the office has been politicized, he said, “does a great disservice” to its more than 200 employees, some who have worked for years to land big projects.
The governor said in an interview Wednesday that Carter’s statement shows a “lack of understanding” about what the economic development office does.

No, I don’t think so. Carter’s right, from my experience in this area (and in Georgia): ground-breaking and ribbon-cutting ceremonies are ways to give the state and the governor political credit for things that were already happening. Deal says ribbon-cuttings are “simply symbolic representations of many, many thousands of hours of work of many dedicated people.” Maybe so, but the work is aimed at giving the state and the governor political credit for things that were already happening, and that are a tiny part of what “economic development” is really about.

This last point is the most important. The assumption, which has reconquered the South in the last couple of decades like a returning plague, that “corporate investment recruitment” and “economic development” are the same thing is outrageous on its face, and leads to the sort of corporate whoring behavior Rick Perry is so proud of. I’m not that familiar with Georgia’s corporate subsidy structure (other than its noxious film credits) these days, but Georgians should actually hope all those ribbon-cuttings really are as superficial as Carter suggests they are. Otherwise they are a celebration of self-abasement by a community that is incapable of building on its own resources, and thinks of development as something delivered to them by corporate gods from afar.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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