"I sought among them for a man that might set up a hedge, and stand in the gap before me in favor of the land." Ezekiel 22:30

Friday, December 20, 2013

Government, Boeing, and the Allure of Jobs

My latest post at The 9s has to do with the effort to lure Boeing's new 777x plant to St. Louis.

Jobs are great. Actually, they’re not just great; they are vitally important to our economy, to families and to communities. Common sense and statistics tell us that an individual with a job feels better about himself or herself than a person without one. At the least, jobs simply keep people off the streets; at best, they give people hope, happiness and a better life. Either way, jobs are undoubtedly a good thing.

Since 2007, jobs have become increasingly more difficult to find. The U.S. unemployment rate has remained over 7% since December 2008. Locally in St. Louis, the unemployment rate has dropped to 6.5% only within the past couple months, but was as high as 7.9% as recently as July.

Things are getting better, but as a country and a community we obviously have a long way to go.
So when it was clear that Boeing was considering St. Louis as a location for another assembly plant, which could bring anywhere from 2,000-8,000 jobs to the area, community and state leaders took action. Governor Jay Nixon called a special session of the General Assembly to approve a round of tax incentives worth $1.7 billion, and the St. Louis County Council approved a $1.8 billion tax credit package.

As of this writing, a decision from Boeing is still pending. The State of Missouri and St. Louis County did all they could do, so now the waiting game begins. And with the extra time to sit back and wait, it makes sense to take some time to reflect on the situation.

It goes without saying that a Boeing assembly plant in St. Louis would be an enormous boost to the local economy. As said above, jobs are undoubtedly a good thing, and the more jobs, the better. However, with all the extra steps taken to entice Boeing to the region, we can and should ask if the ends – more jobs – truly justify the means.

This is not the place to get into the minutia of the bill signed by Governor Nixon; instead a more basic question to ask is whether or not government should go out of its way to woo a corporation. Should Boeing decline the offer, the state and county is no better or worse for the exercise. On the other hand, should Boeing choose St. Louis, we know that the immediate result will be an increase in jobs and a boost to the economy. Seems like a win-win, right?

But what about the little guys, the small businesses across the state who account for thousands of jobs, and potentially could afford to hire thousands more employees if they had additional tax incentives thrown their way? Conceivably, a $1.7 billion tax incentive program for Missouri’s small business could lead to even more jobs than Boeing’s new plant would provide. That would be good too, right?

This is not intended to be a Republican vs. Democrat, conservative vs. liberal discourse, but rather a serious, introspective thought experiment. So, just take a couple minutes, lay aside party affiliations, and ask yourself these questions:
  • Do you think that bringing any jobs to the state or region is a good thing, regardless of the way they got here?
  • Do you think states, cities, or regions should win contracts on their merits, or go out of their way to entice companies to come?
  • Do you think governments should cater to large companies because they are more stable, reputable, visible, etc., or should they treat all companies equally, regardless of size?

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