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VCU poll: 80 percent of Virginians support financial incentives to spur economic development

A strong majority of Virginians — 80 percent — support the use of tax credits or other financial incentives by the state as an economic development strategy, according to a poll released today by the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University. But for many, the details of such policies make a big difference in their support.

vcuThe findings, part of the Wilder School’s Summer 2017 Public Policy Poll, follow several years in which state policymakers invested significant energy in reorganizing economic development structures within Virginia and came under fire for providing financial incentives to companies that ultimately failed to expand their activities in the state.

The poll, conducted by landline and cell telephone from July 17-25, is a random sample of 806 adults in Virginia with an overall margin of error of 4.2 percentage points. Results also show that Virginians see higher education as having strong value to society and believe the state’s colleges and universities are doing a good job of preparing graduates for the workforce.

Within Virginians’ overall support for economic development incentives are important strong caveats in opinion depending on details of such policies.

While 80 percent said they supported the use of financial incentives, 72 percent of the supportive group would shift to opposing the policy if the incentives are provided up front to the companies, which may ultimately decide not to bring their business to Virginia. Of the same originally supportive group, 41 percent would shift to opposing the policy if the incentives were unlimited in amount.

Similar shifts took place among the much smaller group that opposes the use of economic development incentives in general.

Of the 15 percent of respondents who said they opposed the use of financial incentives to recruit companies, 48 percent said they would shift to being supportive of such a policy if companies would be required to return incentives if they don’t bring their business to Virginia. Similarly, 43 percent of those originally opposed would become supporters if incentive amounts were capped.

“The saying that ‘the devil is in the details’ certainly applies to the use of taxpayer-funded economic development incentives,” said John Accordino, Ph.D., dean of the Wilder School. “The specific terms of incentive agreements clearly matter to the public.”

The same poll found that large majorities of the population in Virginia are unfamiliar with two programs that have been centerpieces of recent economic and workforce development efforts — Go Virginia and One-Stop Career Centers. A large majority, 72 percent, said they were not at all familiar with Go Virginia and another 19 percent said they were not too familiar with it. Only 9 percent said they were very or somewhat familiar with the centers.

Virginia’s One-Stop Career Centers, which provide job search support and resources, were slightly better known — 19 percent of respondents said they were very or somewhat familiar with the centers but the vast majority (80 percent) said they were not too or not at all familiar with them. Only 39 percent of respondents said they were very or somewhat likely to use a One-Stop Center in their own job search if they had to conduct one in the near future.

“These survey findings reveal an opportunity for the commonwealth to increase awareness and use of our network of 65 One-Stop Career Centers,” said Todd P. Haymore, Virginia secretary of commerce and trade. “These centers serve as community access points for information about existing and emerging industries and jobs in demand within regions. A critical part of Virginia’s economic development success will depend on our ability to engage and prepare Virginians for the jobs available today and for the future, and I applaud VCU’s Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs for bringing more attention to workforce and economic development issues in Virginia.”

Findings in the poll also give colleges and universities strong marks in preparing graduates for the workforce in five important areas.

Seventy-eight percent of Virginians say colleges and universities are doing a good job in producing graduates in scientific fields, and 65 percent said the same about developing students’ writing and communication skills. Sixty-three percent say the state schools do a good job providing the skills that will be useful in obtaining a job.

A slightly smaller majority (60 percent) thinks Virginia colleges and universities are doing a good job preparing students for the workforce and that they are doing a good job of preparing students to be engaged citizens.

A majority of Virginians (67 percent) felt strongly or somewhat strongly that a higher education system is good for society as a whole, rather than mostly being a private benefit for individual graduates.

“These results show Virginians see the commonwealth’s colleges and universities providing significant value,” said Robyn McDougle, Ph.D., faculty director of the Wilder School’s Office of Public Policy Outreach, which conducted the poll. “This is value not only to their graduates, but to society as a whole.”

Next week, the Wilder School’s Office of Public Policy Outreach will be releasing new poll results measuring Virginians’ views on K-12 and higher education (Aug. 29).

For a PDF of the 30-page report, including complete question wording and detailed tables of results, see http://www.wilder.vcu.edu/office-of-public-policy-outreach/


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