Evaluating Firm-Specific Location Incentives: An Application to the Kansas PEAK Program

The use of financial incentives to attract and retain companies has become one of the most common economic development strategies of U.S. states and municipalities. Despite the widespread debate on the effectiveness of these programs, few systematic academic studies have examined how incentives affect job creation and local economic development. The result is that policymakers often lack objective data from which to draw conclusions about the benefits of these programs.

At a time in which state and municipal budgets are increasingly strained, new tools that allow policymakers to evaluate and understand the costs and benefits of incentive programs are needed. This paper attempts to provide policymakers with such a tool by exploring the impact of the Promoting Employment Across Kansas (PEAK) incentive program and other incentives. The paper is part of a larger project funded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation that seeks to examine the effects of incentives on job creation in the Kansas City region as part of a two-year study of incentive competition.

The paper’s main finding is that, when comparing firms receiving PEAK incentives to a similar set of “control” firms, PEAK incentives recipients are statistically not more likely to generate new jobs than similar firms not receiving incentives. A secondary set of findings shows that firms relocating to Kansas, with or without incentives, do not experience job growth at higher rates than existing firms.

More important than the specific analysis of the PEAK program, this paper provides a model for the evaluation of incentive programs that could be applied to both state and municipal incentive programs. In the conclusion, I offer some suggestions for reforms of both the reporting of incentives and the analysis of the economic impact of incentives, and alternative economic development strategies.