Men Of Steel

December 8, 2003
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Without question, Jim Zawacki is delighted that President GeorgeW.Bush is moving to rescind his steel tariffs. Yet the outspoken CEO of GR Spring & Stamping Inc. was livid that in reporting the issue to the nation, CNN’s Lou Dobbs interviewed steel makers about the president’s decision but didn’t give one second of broadcast time to the layoffs that the tariffs caused among steel-consuming manufacturers.

Zawacki is close to the issue not only because his firm consumes steel, but also because he’s chairman of the nationwide Precision Metalforming Association. He said PMA raised and spent about $1 million trying to awaken federal officials to the impact of the tariffs. In one such wakeup call, Zawacki and PMA last month shipped a stamping press from Grand Rapids to the Capitol’s east lawn to dramatize the issue and its impact upon American manufacturing.

But to have Dobbs — whom CNN dubs “the nation’s pre-eminent business news journalist” — roll over and play dead for the steel industry was too much. Zawacki, who also is active with the Manufacturers Council of The Right Place Inc., wrote to Dobbs and released his letter to the Business Journal. The text is far too long to quote in its entirety, but it does drive home some points about the issue.

First, the White House tariff to protect U.S. steel militated against far more workers than it helped, because for every steel job, there are 58 steel-consuming jobs.

Second, most of the U.S. steel industry is so obsolete it can only produce about 75 percent of market demands, indicating steel imports are a necessity. On average, American steel productivity is 500 tons per worker, contrasted to 2,500 tons per workers at Nucor, this country’s only world-class mill.

Zawacki recommended that Dobbs read the book “Value Migration” that he said devotes an entire chapter to why the American steel industry has not kept up with the rest of the world.

Zawacki’s letter concludes, “Lou, your survey yesterday was not fair, because your listeners did not know all the facts. They only heard the steel producers’ side. These tariffs have done more damage to jobs, and (are) pushing our customers offshore … what happens when the new world class mills come online around the world, including China?”

Zawacki listed the following firms as West Michigan’s only financial supporters to the MPA effort to discourage tariffs: Automatic Spring Products Corp., Dowding Industries Inc., Drawform, GR Spring & Stamping Inc., Jesco Industries Inc., Jireh Metal Products, Pridgeon & Clay Inc., Spectrum Industries Inc., Trans-Matic Manufacturing Co., Weber Specialties Co. and Wolverine Coil Spring Co.

  • If the steel tariffs become a political hot potato during the upcoming election year, President Bush will have missed an opportunity in West Michigan, according to Congressman PeterHoekstra

In fact, the Holland Republican said, President Bush missed several chances to score points locally.

“Bush should have been here the day after the State of the Union Address to talk about clean air and Federal Prison Industries, and then (come back) in February for steel tariffs,” Hoekstra said. “If, as his campaign says, Michigan is in play, he should be here.”

Hoekstra pointed out that his district voted for Bush, as did Congressman VernEhlers’ district. U.S. Rep. FredUpton’s district was about 50-50, he said. “But all the others went Democrat.”

Hoekstra said his camp has been working hard on FPI, clean air rules and steel tariffs for the past 12 months and has made some progress, but with little support from the White House.

“What if he (Bush) had been out in front on these?” Hoekstra queried. “Where would we be then?”

  • Did anyone else at Wednesday’s VIP reception for business leaders at DeVos Place notice the “trained” sound system? When some of the first VIPs spoke from the mezzanine above the Grand Gallery, including GRMAYOR and even DickDeVos, the echoes were a little troubling. In fact, many at the rear of the crowd had trouble understanding any of the speeches.

But when RichDeVos, whose name adorns the grand structure, took his place in front of the microphone, even the building’s electronics took notice and delivered the message much more clearly.

Now that’s power.

  • Wednesday’s VIP opening was grand by any measure, but there are those who know how to work a crowd, like DeVos, and then there are those that really know how to work a room.

Take, for instance, PeterSecchia, who snatched an opportunity during the VIP speeches to work a little magic of his own. He was conspicuous in a brown suit coat amid a sea of black, but he also was the only person moving among the stationary crowd that was gazing skyward at the speakers. Secchia could be seen sneaking up behind GVSU President MarkMurray for a little over-the-shoulder time, and then blithely moving to RickDeVos and bending the third generation’s ear while still keeping his eyes peeled for other targets.

Now, if we just knew what he was saying …     

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