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Columbia Missourian

DEAR READER: IBM story shows the structure for private deals with public money

By Tom Warhover
July 2, 2010 | 11:25 a.m. CDT

Dear Reader,

I hope you had a chance to read Abby Rogers’ outstanding report about  the IBM deal with the city.

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More than anything I’ve read so far, it described the organizations in place that allowed the IBM deal to go through with secrecy and speed.

Abby’s story showed how the private, not-for-profit Columbia Area Jobs Foundation was the go-between that allowed city government to cut through public disclosures and private subcontractors to avoid public bids for work on the building at LeMone Industrial Park.

One commenter to the report said the debate was “too little and too late.”

In one sense, he’s right: We all have played little more than Monday morning quarterback since the governor’s announcement in May.

But isn’t it good to review the tape, especially when we couldn’t see the game live?

The Columbia Area Jobs Foundation will play the same role in future deals. It’s the reason for its existence, in fact.

So will the Regional Economic Development Inc., which has a mission of attracting business. It played a large role as matchmaker in the IBM deal.

REDI and the Columbia Area Jobs Foundations are private means to a public end: attracting business.

REDI president and city employee Mike Brooks told the council last month, “In some ways, this is the city’s business.”

I don’t think Brooks, the city’s director of economic development, meant all of us when he referred to the city.

The system is in place. Presumably, more deals will be done this way.

Is that OK?

It’s up to you to decide.

It’s the Missourian’s job to explain it in a way that informs your judgment.

The potential benefits have been obvious. The potential costs are a little more difficult to report.

(Bias alert: Journalists are generally leery of secrets. It’s part of the job description. Put “secret” and “government” in the same sentence and you’ll find a reporter who wants to know why. )

There’s talk of attracting a data storage center to mid-Missouri.  Incentives for such centers were added during the special session of the legislature this week.

We won’t know the companies.

But we have a much better sense of the local players doing the courting.

Tom