Welcome to the 21st Century, where – despite all the technological leaps forward – there are fewer dependable sources of news, and everyone is spinning all the time.
The most cringe-inducing take on last week’s announcement by Ford Motor Company was in Joe Reagan’s victory lap on the Courier-Journal opinion page Sunday, “Ford Motor’s Extraordinary Turnaround.”
In the column, the Greater Louisville Inc., Metro Chamber of Commerce CEO and president somehow linked Louisville being the “idea capital of the world” (apologies to Cupertino, Palo Alto, New York, Tokyo, Nagoya, Stuttgart, Boston/Cambridge, Redwood City, Wash. and any other actual innovation center) with the $600 million Ford investment here.
In case you missed that memorable evening, Reagan and Humana Inc. CEO Michael McCallister introduced the “Idea Capital of the World: Where Imaginations and Individuals Thrive” campaign at GLI’s mind-bending annual meeting last March, complete with black-clad swami/inspirational consultant Lance Secretan.
Or, as Secretan bills himself, “One of the World’s Great Thinkers.”
Secretan and McCallister explained – using the densest new-age tautology ever heard in a level-headed Southern city – how Louisville, like Humana, is going to reinvent itself.
One almost gets overcome inhaling the fumes of distilled genius from GLI.
Since the big orchestrated and choreographed announcement by Ford officials and state and city leaders last Thursday, I suppose we’re to imagine a Louisville reinvented as … a heavy-manufacturing hub.
What Reagan, the C-J and Business First all left out last week is that everything Ford is doing here is made possible by a $5.9 billion loan Ford received in 2009 from the United States Department of Energy to develop high-mileage (or at least higher-mileage autos) at five plants.
Ford will receive $240 million as tax incentives from state and local governments in Kentucky over the next 10 years “as a supportive measure to draw further investments and create employment opportunities in the state,” according to officials. And the cars will be built by new workers making about $15 per hour (half the wage of senior workers) due to a 2007 UAW concession.
Gov. Steve Beshear, Mayor Jerry Abramson and Ford executives also forgot to note how Ford’s still playing catch-up after riding the Explorer to near disaster.
Toyota and Honda have had the capability for years to produce multiple models at one plant simultaneously, which Ford officials are representing as the gee-whiz factor in the LAP revamp.
The $600 million Ford is spending here came right out of our taxpayers’ pockets. And the company only did it after its top executives forgot how to make cars properly and read consumer and world financial trends.
To their credit, the C-J reporters and editors followed up their unquestioning coverage of the Ford announcement with the first installment of a story package about jobs, or the lack of, in Louisville, and it ain’t pretty.
While nearby cities such as Nashville and Indianapolis were gaining jobs, even during the recession, Louisville’s economy lost 24,600 jobs, or about four percent of the jobs in the 13-county Louisville-Southern Indiana metro between 2000 and 2009. Our fundamental weakness? Education. And 3,000 jobs at Ford isn’t going to change that.
It’s a solid, Gannett-style piece. But the question is, where was the Courier when Louisville was bottoming out? Where was Business First? And most importantly, where was GLI?
Since everyone turned out for the big Ford show, a few bits of actual news have leaked, despite Ford, which refuses to comment on model and production changes before they’re final. Or maybe because of Ford, since global corporations are very effective at strategically leaking news.
Who can blame executives for wanting to control the news?
Several news blogs including Zacks.com, the analyst blog for Chicago-based Zacks Investment Research Inc., have posted what they say is insider information that a retooled Louisville plant will also produce, in addition to the Escape, a smallish Lincoln-branded SUV crossover starting in June 2012, as well as the new Focus compact car and a C-Max wagon sold in Europe.
A big announcement in Louisville causes American-based multinationals problems in the other parts of the globe. So, if German unions and suppliers don’t play ball, they can move production of the Kuga (or whatever it’s called) to Louisville from Saarlouis. Ditto for the C-Max station wagon in Spain.
And well they should because Ford is a for-profit operation after the competitive advantage, an entity that tries to extract wage concessions and tax deals wherever it goes.
As with GE’s proposed expansion here, there’s a lot of “if” quotient to the Ford plan. If GE can sell the “Green” washers and water heaters, there will be 800 jobs.
If Ford truly can compete without federal intervention against Toyota, Honda, Volkswagen, Renault and even GM, Ford will have 2,800 jobs at the Louisville Assembly Plant.
If we can afford these tax breaks. If we can afford these wage concessions.
If Louisville doesn’t want to move into the future in new high-technology areas, and away from manufacturing.
Is this really where we want to go, and do we want to ride a Ford to get there?