Good News Steelcase Invests Bad News Jendrasiak

June 19, 2002
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Grand Rapids City Commission last week approved tax abatements for Steelcase Inc., the world’s largest office furniture manufacturer, currently experiencing its worst downturn in recorded history. It should easily have been a unanimous decision.

The crux of the issue for the dissenter was that because Steelcase has spent money to purchase other companies it should be punished by denial of the abatement requests. While such a notion possibly exemplifies some subconscious dysfunctional thinking it certainly indicates a potentially serious lack of education.

Grand Rapids Business Journal appreciates that Commissioner James Jendrasiak has only recently escaped the wrath of the business community in re-election to the commission, but such was earned based on automatic vetoes of all things of a business nature, even those that might assist the local economy. Likewise, we appreciate that some of his constituents prefer he reflect their uneducated views. We argue, however, this gives Jendrasiak many opportunities to assist those constituents that they might finally make educated and then informed decisions.

Like every business in America, Steelcase leaders have understood the imperative of product diversification, so that the firm and its employees — Jendrasiak constituents among them — might not suffer the serious consequences so evident in the current downturn.

The idea is to build new profit centers and ultimately employ many additional people. In the case of the aforementioned purchases in particular, communications cabling systems and information display systems, Steelcase won’t be paying for but profiting from very strategic components.

The Steelcase projects to accommodate these new enterprises and proposed for abatement amount to more than $1 million in new taxes, added to its current tax bill of $4.8 million. How can that be disregarded and abatement denied for so comparatively a brief a period of time? Such business investment has been begged by this country’s leaders to stimulate the economy.

That Jendrasiak is either unconscious of or unconcerned about the employment possibilities of the now-young people in his ward is indefensible.

At long last, kudos are extended to fellow Commissioner Rick Tormala, who has aligned himself every time with Jendrasiak’s “just say no” mentality, a lazy attitude requiring no work and certainly no learning.

Tormala acknowledges he’s read recent headlines, and in this case, offered that he saw the abatements as “a kind of economic stimulus package.” Tormala even went so far as to acknowledge that Steelcase has been a good corporate partner for the city.

The group continues to flap about establishing “guidelines” to “firm up” a “policy” for business tax abatements, even though these already are outlined by law. To create arbitrary guidelines beyond this is to attempt to cut off discussion and case-by-case thought on individual requests. That wouldn’t be wise.

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