Thursday, October 20, 2016

There are actual job creators in Wisconsin, but they ain't in WEDC/WMC

I usually roll my eyes when Wisconsin companies get newspaper articles about their latest expansion and/or “plans to hire more people” event. In the Age of Fitzwalkerstan, many are nothing more than partisan PR events to try to trick the average rube into thinking regressive GOP policies are working in the state, and the event is often associated with some kind of tax giveaway. A good example of this happened in Kenosha this week where a printing company got $1.3 million in taxpayer-funded assistance for the 100 jobs it was relocating from northern Illinois. As a result, the company received a visit from Governor Walker yesterday, and the company’s CEO just happened to talk to the media about Wisconsin’s “pro-business” policies (look for his name on a WisGOP campaign contribution report soon).

But I casually clicked on an article from the Portage Daily Register today about a business expanding in that town, and it read a bit differently from the Guv’s photo op in Kenosha.
The company adding 60 new workers is “faster than what we expected,” human resources manager Jane Berg noted Wednesday, minutes before executives cut ribbon to commemorate the expansion in a ceremony for employees. Saint-Gobain’s 48,000-square-foot addition, completed in May, made room for more equipment and increased customer orders.

“There are a lot of places in the world for expansion, so why Portage?” Steve Maddox, general manager of Saint-Gobain’s Life Sciences division, told a crowd of about 75. “We have the capabilities (in) design … and it’s about the people — what you guys can deliver and will deliver.”

Saint-Gobain’s expansion marks only the latest investment in the Portage plant, said Tom Kinisky, the president of Performance Plastics. Since 2008 the company has invested $30 million in the Portage plant, which opened in 2001, he said….

The Portage plant belongs to the “innovative materials group” of Saint-Gobain and manufactures components for medical devices. Recent hirings have brought its workforce to about 400. The 70 open jobs are all injection mold operator positions, though the company has other openings — like in accounting and manufacturing-engineering, Berg said.

Saint-Gobain would be happy to have all of its 70 remaining jobs filled already, Berg said, but “very low” unemployment numbers — something that’s otherwise positive for communities — has slowed the hiring process somewhat. Unemployment in Columbia County is at 3.3 percent, according to August numbers from the Department of Workforce Development. Unemployment in Dane County is even lower — 2.8 percent — while Sauk and Marquette counties are at 3.1 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively.

I noticed a lack of state and local politicians making an appearance at this event (if they were there, they weren’t quoted), and there was no mention of WEDC tax credits or similar giveaways that we often see at “expansion/jobs announcements” that feature Governor Walker or other GOP hacks. That seemed a bit unusual, as Walker did show his mug at Saint-Gobian in early 2015 when they broke ground on the development, and WEDC promised up to $700,000 in write-offs.

But none of the Saint-Gobain people even reference WEDC in the article as a reason behind their expansion, and instead talk about their on-going investment in the company, which indicates to me that the Walker/WEDC folks were trying to front-run on this expansion, and take credit for something that likely would have happened anyway, and without the need for the handout from government. In fact, WEDC isn’t mentioned at all except for a Portage Chamber of Commerce type referencing a WEDC study showing that Portage was growing faster than nearby communities. This is where I point out that Saint-Gobian is in blue-voting Columbia County in a tech-related industry, instead of some old-economy business in a red or 50-50 voting county outside of the Madison media market. Funny, that.

Then I looked at the roster of the Board of Directors at Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, and no Saint-Gobian reps appear on there. I also looked up the three Saint-Gobain executives quoted in the story on the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s “Follow the Money” website, and they don’t show up as donating to any state candidates there, either.

Maybe it’s because these actual “job creators” spend time developing a quality product, hiring good employees and meeting product demand. That seems to be their answer as opposed to throwing money at candidates through front groups like WMC and then demanding payback in the form of handouts and tax cuts from the politicians they paid off. Not that these businesses won’t take those goodies (hey, if the desperate WisGOP government is gonna offer em up, why not take them?), but it doesn’t seem to be their first priority, as it is with the slimeballs at WMC or in companies who play communities off of each other in order to extort the biggest write-offs.

In other words, businesses that care more about running their businesses do better than the lazy, unimaginative corporations that have far too much power in this state. That seems worthy to point out, and might be a strategy to encourage in the future over the pro-oligarch garbage that we have today.

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