Making a pitch for home

March 30, 2009
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Following more than two glorified decades of corporate globalization, job outsourcing and international trade agreements, the mood seems to be changing — at least in Grand Rapids.

“I think we have to take care of home first,” said Elias Lumpkins, 3rd Ward city commissioner, last week.

Lumpkin’s comment came on the heels of a proposal 1st Ward City Commissioner James Jendrasiak made that would require all funds coming to Grand Rapids from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act be spent to retain and provide local jobs and purchase only U.S.-made products.

“We’re not trying to be protectionist here,” said Jendrasiak. “But our goal should be to put people to work. If you want to stimulate the economy, create jobs.”

With unemployment in the metro area topping 13 percent, Jendrasiak offered a resolution for the board to consider that would commit the city to taking that action. He also pointed out how billions in federal spending can be un-stimulating for a local and national economy.

The digital TV converter boxes that consumers with analog sets have to buy are federally subsidized by a $40 coupon, which covers two-thirds of the cost for most of the converters. But Jendrasiak noted the boxes are made overseas and had to be imported for sale in the U.S. “So they used our tax dollars to stimulate other economies,” he said.

Second Ward City Commissioner David LaGrand offered a similar scenario. He recalled when the U.S. Treasury Department came to the city last year to promote the new dollar coin. After talking up the benefits of using metal over paper, the touring officials gave each city commissioner a T-shirt commemorating the event. LaGrand, however, noticed the shirts were made in Guatemala and tax dollars were spent overseas for a strictly U.S. promotion.

Mayor George Heartwell and 1st Ward City Commissioner Walt Gutowski cautioned that the board had to avoid acting as an isolationist in a global economy because economists have said doing so can hurt the nation’s economy when other countries retaliate against the U.S.

But Second Ward City Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss countered that buying local goods and services stimulates a local economy, and she argued the stimulus money should be used to support local jobs.

“This is stimulus money. If it’s not spent in the U.S., it won’t stimulate,” added James White, 3rd Ward city commissioner.

City Attorney Catherine Mish is reviewing Jendrasiak’s proposed resolution and plans to have it before commissioners for a vote at their next meeting April 14. LaGrand said committing city government to do business locally whenever it can is a good thing, and he is glad a portion of the stimulus money is targeted for infrastructure work because those jobs can’t be outsourced.

“It’s something we as Americans have to discuss,” said Jendrasiak. “We can’t stimulate the economy without creating jobs.”

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