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The governor touted 30,000 jobs with arena proposal, but is that accurate?

A render of part of the proposed sports complex in Alexandria.
Alexandria Economic Development Partnership
A render of part of the proposed sports complex in Alexandria.

Governor Glenn Youngkin says an arena proposal in Alexandria would create 30,000 jobs.

That became a rallying cry for supporters of a proposal to create a sports arena in Alexandria. But is that a credible number?

A request for more information about how that number was calculated was initially met with silence and delays. Finally, 54 days after the request, city officials responded with a one-page document that lays out some but not all of the details.

"The delay in providing you specific information about jobs is that that information was never intended to be released at this level," says Stephanie Landrum, president and CEO of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership.

She says part of the problem with disclosing information to the public is that the deal is still being negotiated in private.

"We cannot release information while we’re still negotiating. And that has been frankly the major deciding factor in how and what we've released."

So far, the information the city has released has been lacking according to University of Texas professor of public policy Heywood Sanders. He believes the one-page document that was provided 54 days after the request for information is a red flag.

"It's a lovely looking document," Sanders says. "It is full of no substance whatsoever."

He says the documentation provided to explain the projection of 30,000 jobs did not hit the mark.

"It either assumes that anybody who reads this is totally naive or it's based on the assumption that the governor of Virginia quoted 30,000 jobs some months ago as the product of this project and they somehow finally had to come up with a document that got close to 30,000," explains Sanders.

The document provided by Alexandria officials.
The document provided by Alexandria officials.

The lack of detail about the 30,000 jobs is concerning to Neil deMause, co-author of the book "Field of Schemes," which is also the title of his blog.

"If there are a whole bunch of numbers and you don't have the backing data and you don't have the footnotes, right? Then the numbers can say absolutely anything," deMause says. "And I think that's kind of the goal here."

That's an assessment shared by Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First, a nonprofit research group on economic development.

"Without giving us the underlying assumptions, there's no way to judge this and there's every reason to believe that it's inflated by faulty assumptions," says LeRoy.

Landrum with the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership says the prediction of 30,000 jobs is based on a solid analysis, even if the details behind how it was calculated are not available to the public.

"It's not a normal part of what gets released to the public because it does include proprietary information," she says. "Frankly, it shows other businesses how we evaluate projects and will give them better information to come negotiate with jurisdictions moving forward."

For now, the arena proposal is in a holding pattern after the General Assembly failed to include it in its budget proposal. The governor could revive the issue with a budget amendment or a special session, but it would continue to face the same opposition in Richmond unless opponents change their mind and drop their opposition.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.
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