Virginia Gov. McDonnell not shy about spending on job creation

By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 14, 2010; 10:53 PM

RICHMOND - In the past five months, Virginia has given $7.7 million to 13 companies to create 1,677 jobs in the state. Or, $4,592 per job.

Virginia spent $1.4 million to launch a TV campaign - the first out-of-state ads in three years - and plans to invest $450,000 to set the groundwork to open trade offices in India, China and the United Kingdom, according to state figures. It used $1.5 million to secure filming of the movie "Unanswered Prayers," starring country crooner Garth Brooks, a project that aired on Lifetime and resulted in $2.8 million in spending in the state.

The money came from Gov. Robert F. McDonnell's $58 million economic development package, approved by the General Assembly in the spring and designed to create jobs in Virginia - the governor's No. 1 priority.

"The money sent a very powerful message that Virginia is serious about economic development," said Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R), who serves as the state's chief jobs creation officer.

On Wednesday, McDonnell (R) will announce that he is asking state legislators for tens of millions of additional dollars for economic development. According to some legislators, he could request an additional $50 million.

Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax), one of the state's budget writers in the Democratic-controlled Senate, said she supports McDonnell's economic-development efforts but thinks lawmakers need to know whether incentive money really helps lure businesses or whether the companies would have opened or expanded in Virginia regardless. Howell is drafting a bill to ask the General Assembly's investigative arm to study the issue.

"There is no in-depth analysis on whether we would have gotten the companies and jobs anyway,'' she said. "We do need a comprehensive job-creation analysis. I don't think they have any real grasp on whether they are successful."

McDonnell will announce a complete list of all his amendments to the two-year budget Friday. That announcement will include cuts to help offset additional spending that he has proposed, including $50 million for higher education and $150 million for transportation.

Other Virginia governors have used similar types of funds. But in his first legislative session this spring, McDonnell persuaded legislators to increase the amount he was given for economic development to far more than any other chief executive in recent history.

McDonnell received $35 million for fiscal 2011 and $23.7 million for fiscal year 2012. The commission that doles out money from a settlement with the nation's largest tobacco companies also pledged $5 million to McDonnell to help attract major projects to the state.

His package included programs to lure businesses to the state through grants and loans to large and small businesses; investments in the tourism, wine and film industries; TV and Web marketing and advertising; and international trade missions for the governor and his staff.

Six months into the fiscal year, McDonnell has spent about $25 million.

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