Researcher's Guide

Researching Economic Development Subsidies & Their Impact

Promoting accountable development requires information gathering as much as it does organizing. Getting details on planned and existing subsidy deals is essential to any intervention in the process by a community group, a labor union, an environmental organization, or any other entity acting in the public interest. Such information is also of vital interest to public officials, journalists, and other parties. In this section we provide assistance to anyone seeking to gather information about state and local economic development subsidies.

The first thing to keep in mind is that most information about subsidies exists in a kind of grey area – neither completely open and accessible nor completely secret. This reflects the fact that subsidies involve an interaction between the public and the private sector, and thus there is a tension between the government practice of openness and the business penchant for treating data as proprietary. Good Jobs First and other organizations are pressing for more disclosure laws to make data readily available, as it is in some states. In the meantime, researchers need to make the most of the information sources that currently exist. This Researcher’s Guide aims to serve that need.

Note that this online guide is an updated and revised version of No More Secret Candy Store: A Grassroots Guide to Investigating Development Subsidies, which Good Jobs First issued in 2001. The 
original full text of that guide
can be found in PDF form on our publication’s page.

This online guide has two main parts and various subsections, as follows:

I. Basics of Subsidy Programs

II. Research Techniques

Here we get into the details of finding data on subsidies and the companies that receive them. We also look at various kinds of government information sources on subsidy programs in general. We include six different approaches: