5 Questions with Jane Vancil: Auto-tracking subsidy outcomes

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Jane Vancil is CEO and founder of IncentiLock LLC, an automated tool that tracks how economic development incentives are performing.

Yup, there’s really a tool for that – software that lets government agencies measure whether the money they give away in the name of economic development is doing what it’s supposed to do. And it lets companies do the same thing, so if their subsidies are tied to benchmarks (i.e., performance-based), they know when they can collect.

Vancil, who spent 20 years in top positions with Fortune 500 companies, spent a lot of time working with businesses to access incentives and then follow what was coming out the other side. What she found was a complex web of reporting tools that made it very difficult to determine outcomes.

In 2015, she founded IncentiLock to fill that gap. Besides calculating subsidy benefits, it also identifies labor-ready workforce needs and measures new hire diversity and inclusion efforts. Her product was named one of the 2018 Most Innovative Companies by Small Business Monthly.

Vancil, who lives in Chesterfield, Misssouri, spoke to me via email about this innovative tool.

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Q: Was there an aha moment in your career, or a specific project you were working on, that led to the creation of IncentiLock?

A: There sure was! I had been doing incentive compliance for 20 years and had used spreadsheets or simple databases. Neither transitions easily from one person to another so there is a good deal of training and retraining when handing them off. One model preferred by a huge client would blow up and require a total rebuild. The last time that happened, I decided enough is enough. I spent an entire year designing a platform to handle incentive reporting and compliance under any government program.

Q: For those who have been in this space for a long time (like Good Jobs First), it is a chronic frustration that government agencies don’t track the outcomes of incentives with regularity or consistency. In your experience, why is this the case?

A: Unfortunately, on the private side (company) there is a universal gap between the people trying to gain access to the incentive and the people who will be required to report on the progress of the incentive project. These two groups of people have likely never met or discussed the project. On the public side (the state) there is also often a separation of duties between the staff trying to lure the company into a decision and the staff that is responsible for program tracking and compliance.  These two groups have competing motivations, a circumstance which has both pros and cons. 

Q: One of the goals of your product is helping small businesses access economic development incentives (our research has shown large companies by far benefit the most from them). Can you talk more about that aspect? 

A: Working as a tax director in Fortune 500 manufacturing companies, I saw the winding down of U.S. plants and the impact on coworkers and their families.  Now, we’re seeing how stressed supply chains have become. That means that there is a lot of opportunity. Our mission is to help companies of any size grow. We have a 50-state database of published economic development incentives inside our platform that gives users an idea of what might be possible and points them in the right direction.  We help companies keep more of their incentive benefits by keeping the compliance cost low.

Q: How has your product been received by governments? Sometimes (and I hate to sound cynical here), it seems like they’re not nearly as interested in the outcomes as that ribbon-cutting day.

A: Well, change is always hard. Even with tight budgets/shortfalls, this investment is not seen as a priority.  That is surprising because, while we are making sure companies receive their benefit, we are also making sure that they are not over-compensated in error. The platform is designed to record the programmatic requirements that the Company must meet, report when they meet them, calculate the appropriate benefit, and maintain compliance.  That, presumably, is the same thing that the States wish to achieve. Compliance is an after-thought in most cases. Automation creates efficiency and is very likely to translate to cost savings. 

Q: What’s an outcome or two you’d love to see as a result of wide use of IncentiLock?

Our goal is to provide objective, data-driven metrics to awarding agencies and to the companies granted incentives. Lawmakers and taxpayers see whether outcomes meet intentions. Companies use our automation to proactively monitor workforce trends and identify training needs.  Every incentive award has a story, and that story is more than the number of jobs created or capital investment forecasted. We have a new module in the platform that measures diversity in new hires with a five-year history. It would be great to see those metrics as a standard in incentive reporting.

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