This morning’s High Point Enterprise ran two front page articles side by side. The placement and timing, I’m sure, were coincidental. The irony, however, was stark.
The first article was yet one more update on whether local and state sources will recover incentives from Dell, the Texas-based company lured to place a distribution facility in ForsythCounty with the largest incentive package in state history. The $300 million plus Dell incentives were layered and complex, but they were packaged merely to garner an additional 1,500 jobs. Rather than serve as a catalyst for more jobs and create an economic panacea for a region reeling from loss of manufacturing jobs, Dell became yet one more casualty of this year’s economic debacle, announcing that it is pulling up stakes, leaving the state and abandoning over 900 jobs.
The next article ran with the headline “Thomas Built loses bid for bus contract.”
Thomas Built Buses is a homegrown High Point company with roots dating back to the early 20th century when it was founded as the Perley A. Thomas Car Works. Now owned by German company Daimler AG, Thomas still employs several hundred workers in High Point at various plants and locations.
The article was short and pointed. Instead of awarding a contract to manufacture up to 900 new school buses to a highly qualified, North Carolina company, somebody in Raleigh drafted RFP specs that slanted the tables away from North Carolina jobs. Consequently, up to 900 buses for North Carolina’s school children will be manufactured by White International Trucks in Oklahoma and shipped here.
I know nothing about the nationwide RFP other than the results. I do know, however, that such RFPs begin on the desks of 9-5 government employees in non-descript cubicles and offices whose job descriptions don’t include the protection of North Carolina jobs. And I know that in any layered, bureaucratic organization, the degree of scrutiny of large, fine-print documents decreases as the document rises through the ranks. Someone sitting in an office with “director of” in his or her title has theoretical influence over the final product yet — depending upon the situation — limited actual influence and often marginal interest or energy in wielding it.
Those who assemble large RFPS can always send them up the chain absolved of their own responsibility because a phalanx of “supervisor of,” “director of,” and “chief of” types must review and approve. Those who review and approve can always hide behind the technical “experts” and quasi-titled managers below who have done the work. After all, why would someone with a title review a thick, fine print document when they have committee meetings to attend?
Without having seen the school bus RFP, I would bet both of my tickets to this coming Saturday’s UNC-Duke football game that it would have taken very little to build in a requirement of no consequence to N.C. taxpayers or children’s safety that would have made it easier for Thomas Built Buses to bid.
So why spend hundrends of millions to lure new jobs while we casually and readily turn our backs on existing jobs?
Make whatever political points you wish about incentives and government subsidies, but it would have made better financial sense to have taken the few dollars recouped from Dell and used them to subsidize Thomas Built Buses so that Thomas could offer to manufacture the buses at much lower cost and have been more competitive in the RFP. Instead, we use our taxpayer funds too quickly for foreign companies coming into the state instead of using them for local companies competing against large outside companies for highly lucrative state government contracts.