Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Mitsubishi typical of corporate attitude; should we really cater to it too much?

It has been some three decades since I attended college in Bloomington, Ill., and the major local news story during the time I lived there was the arrival of an auto plant in neighboring Normal by Mitsubishi Motors.

A road sign soon to be obsolete
The coming of a U.S.-based auto plant by a Japanese company was a major event for that city – it supposedly put that central Illinois municipality on the international map. Unless you believe that Illinois State University has such a stellar reputation.

SO THE FACT that Mitsubishi officials let it be known recently that they’re closing that plant – and that the whole saga of Mitsubishi in central Illinois lasted all of 30 years tops – is a major blow to that community.

Yet somehow it doesn’t seem all that shocking that such a thing can happen.

Mitsubishi came to this state when it thought it could gain some sort of economic benefit for itself. The fact that it now no longer senses that benefit and thinks it can gain by going elsewhere is, in many ways, the way business operates.

Which is why I think it is ridiculous for government officials of a certain ideological bent to claim they’re being “pro-business” by conducting themselves in ways that are meant to cater to the whims of what corporate interests want.

WE’RE NOT GOING to get companies locating here with any particular loyalty by making these payoffs – which often involve giving assorted tax breaks to the companies to make them feel like the gross income they’re producing is theirs.

Mitsubishi made a fine auto in Illinois for 30 years
The activist-types who complain about this are often derided as being unrealistic, if not outright naïve. It also is argued that any loss of tax revenue by the local governments is made up for by the fact that the company employed people locally and helped boost the local economy.

The money they were paid in salaries got spent at local supermarkets and shopping malls and was used to make mortgage payments on local homes. Would the local community have been better off if those jobs hadn’t existed in the first place?

Now what makes me bring any of this up?

PART OF IT is the fact that I remember the local fanfare when Mitsubishi came to Illinois. One of the first vehicles off that assembly line, I seem to recall, was provided to then-Gov. James R. Thompson.

RAUNER: Will reforms result in more Mitsubishis
Heck, I remember buying a Mitsubishi vehicle (a Galant, to be exact) back during the 1990s stint that I lived in Springfield, Ill. I remember it as one of the best automobiles I ever owned.

But if we’re being totally honest about things, the fact that Mitsubishi is moving on is something that should have been expected. It may well be the “American Way” to look for a better deal elsewhere.

Which is why I find a lot of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s rhetoric about wanting to implement “reforms” to benefit business interests to be a step in the wrong direction.

DO WE REALLY want to give future Mitsubishis an excuse to come to Illinois for a time – only to move on when they come up with someone willing to make them a “better” offer in the future?

I’m more inclined to think that reform is about creating new business – not playing an endless game of getting existing business to move about and play musical chairs with the Great Lakes states. Leaving the workers without the representation that ultimately will look out for their rights when there is business conflict.

The companies we ought to be encouraging are going to be the ones that come here because they see great benefit to being physically located in our state and think they can create something rather unique here.

Otherwise, the Mitsubishi story of a company coming here for a few decades before moving on and leaving us empty shells of what once was will become all-too-common across Illinois; and that would be truly pathetic.


1 comment:

Bluegrass Boy said...

Good column Greg but I would disagree with some of your premise. It seems that you feel that having Mitsubishi in Normal for 30 years was somehow not worth it since they are now leaving. I disagree. Mitsubishi is not alone in this kind of activity. Domestic automakers (and other manufacturers) have opened and closed large factories across the US in the past 30-40-50 years. During the 30 years Mitsubishi was here, people were employed, mortgages were paid off, kids were sent to college. But the only constant is change. Businesses exist to make products to make money. They do not exist to employ people. Nothing lasts forever and its foolish to expect businesses to provide jobs for life for everyone they ever employ. Competition to attract business is a reality (though I do agree it should involve pitching infrastructure investment and quality of life issues - not just tax breaks alone to the business). So yes, Mitsubishi leaving is sad but not evil. Hopefully another entrepreneur with a good idea will find the location and workforce appealing for their business model for another 10-15-20 years?