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Full Statement from Jeffrey Finkle

Full Statement from Jeffrey Finkle

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Published by NPRombudsman

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Published by: NPRombudsman on Jun 23, 2011
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06/25/2011

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Initial Letter from Jeffrey Finkle:
I always thought that NPR was both fair and balanced and would not go off on somepreconceived notions of what economic development was or how it worked. That wasnot my experience in our most recent interaction for your piece on ³How to Create aJob.´ I hope that most of the folks that have participated in your prior stories don¶t feelas terrible about their participation as I do after listening to this segment. I have workedwith reporters, both national and local, for my entire career and I have never felt that astory was so one-sided. Adam, when you called me in December, you represented yourself as part of the³Planet Money´ team from NPR and said that you were going to do a series oneconomic development. You even added to your credentials that you often consulteconomic developers on stories that you are working on as you travel. Frankly, I wasexcited about the opportunity. Here we were in a major recession, when our membershave been working their hardest to get very few wins and to preserve jobs in their communities.Our members work in all parts of the country and in all aspects of economicdevelopment. They work against incredible odds in what has been a terrible economy.They are trying to use some fairly miserly tools to retain and create jobs in competitionwith countries like China, which are using significant resources to support certainindustries or supporting state-owned enterprises. Economic developers in the U.S. areworking to retain businesses against media messages that low labor rates and largeincentives are what they should expect in their desired location.I am not sure when you decided to take your series and convert it to a ³This AmericanLife´ story. I think we should have taken a pass once it became clear it was no longer anews series, but rather the sarcastic view of the world seen through the lens of ³This American Life.´ This week¶s episode on ³Infidelity´ following our story on ³How to Create
 
a Job´ says reams about the storytelling of ³This American Life.´ You cannot call it journalism - it is storytelling, and to let people believe differently is wholly inappropriate. As you know, I tried very hard to make sure you got timely information and access toour members, and I engaged many members to assist you in your so-called ³series.´ Itrusted you to give a fair and balanced view of what our members do to create, retainand expand jobs in their communities. They gave you significant time andthoughtfulness. I do not think anyone anticipated that NPR would make fun of them. Tohave the piece come out in the form of a cynical view of attraction-focused economicdevelopment in ³This American Life´ on Friday the 13th was very disappointing (andprobably appropriate, considering the date of the release).What the story failed to do is demonstrate to anyone the passion, sensitivity andcommitment that our members demonstrate each and every day as they work toimprove business conditions and opportunities for employers and potential employees.Nothing could be more demonstrative of that than when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and we called for volunteers to assist hard-hit communities; around 200economic developers from around the country gave up annual leave and their time to goto the Gulf Coast and assist in the redevelopment of the region.Did you talk about the numerous economic development volunteers who went down toassist Gulf Coast communities dealing with the effects of the BP oil spill after theDeepwater Horizon Rig exploded and released 4.9 million barrels of crude oil,significantly damaging the environment and economic prospects for many in the region?Do you not think that the economic development professional in Saginaw, Michigan isworking very hard, every day, trying to convince businesses to stay invested in Saginawor bring investment to Saginaw? Did you ask her if she could demonstrate success?Each and every one of our members has to justify their existence each and every day,yet listeners could not tell it by your story. After listening to the program, I spent several days thinking about your story and talkingto people that you interviewed. Adam, they believe, to a person, that you came to our 
 
event with a preconception and nothing that they said could convince you otherwise. Isthat fair reporting?I did not expect you to say that economic developers do everything perfectly, butbalance was clearly missing from your story. As you know, a columnist/reporter in St.Louis said, ³The show's producers also dissect the pathological lies permeating anInternational Economic Development Council convention -- a venue where localeconomic development officers pretend to believe they represent towns, cities andcounties untouched by recession and out-of-control unemployment.´ That is how othersare viewing your story. You say you can¶t help how others represent your story, yet thisis indicative of how one-sided and out of balance the segment was.By the simplistic way you represented our profession, I do not know why you wouldbother visiting with us, because the story appeared to be a mocking portrayal of a bunchof people who work with smoke and mirrors to produce nothing. It is in some ways amisrepresentation of ideas that were discussed with you during the interviews, taken outof context to fit a premeditated agenda. I appreciate your reference that if the economyimproves, all boats float, but you did nothing to acknowledge that economic developersare making jobs that would not otherwise exist through their use of capital financingtools, mentorship programs, incubation, venture capital support, tech transfer andcommercialization efforts, etc.Yes, the issue of attraction-focused economic development can be interesting todiscuss. But, as I also noted, this is a small part of economic development. A far larger segment works with businesses that exist in their communities to help them grow andkeep them from moving away. Approximately 70% of all new jobs come from existingbusinesses, a fact that economic developers realize and work accordingly to preservethe businesses and jobs in their communities. There is no mention of this in the entireprogram.Where are the major national case studies that we talked about? You were in SanDiego and I told you about the work of Kurt Chilcott, a past chair of our organization andthe president and CEO of CDC Small Business Finance. They are the largest originator 

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