When Joe Biden comes to town, be sure and have your bull manure shovels ready.
Last fall, the veep used Flint as a prop to bash Republicans opposed to the president’s $500 billion jobs bill, claiming that murder and rape had tripled as a result of a cut in funding for officers. He implied further bloodbaths if Congress refused to act. Trouble was, Biden’s’ facts were made up out of thin air. In truth, murder had doubled in Flint, not tripled, and rape had actually declined.
Veep Gaffer was back (get used to it, swing staters) this week, milking another Michigan town for White House political gain. This time, Biden adopted Grand Rapids’ venerable American Seating Company as the poster child for the administration’s protectionist, anti-globalist business policies. “Your kids are going to hear as much about insourcing as you heard about outsourcing,” Biden told the crowd promoting the administration’s plan for punishing companies that outsource abroad.
The 125-year old America Seating firm should be proud that its success has attracted the attention of the office of the vice president. But voters should be leery of Biden’s attempt to force its business prescription on everyone.
American Seating is hardly a typical American company.
Begin with the fact that it is the only unionized major furniture maker in Western Michigan. Other “Furniture City” giants like Herman Miller, Hayworth and Steelcase do not fit the administration’s narrow definition of “middle class workers” as belonging to the UAW. Biden’s visit smelled of another Big Labor payoff.
American Seating can afford Big Labor in part because it is a niche company. Unlike its Grand Rapids brethren, it has moved away from retail furniture and into the narrower market of stadium seating — a market it dominates. More telling, 55 percent of its sales now depend on the manufacture of public transit seating.
That is, it depends on the likes Joe “Uncle Sugar” Biden.
Yes, the Obama Administration and American Seating know each other quite well. In 2010, American Seating officials flew to Washington to lobby for stimulus money for Grand Rapids’ public bus system; 80 percent of the seats on its vehicles are provided by American Seating.
Just a year ago, American Seating got a visit from Obama’s deputy transportation secretary who applauded the company for providing “green collar jobs” and proving the worth of The Buy America Act, a protectionist piece of legislation which forces the government to hire domestic companies like American Seating for projects receiving federal money.
In other words, Biden can applaud the fact that 75 percent of American Seating’s jobs are right here in the good ol’ USA because that’s how the company got Uncle Sugar’s money. Neat, huh?
The labor requirements of American Seating, in other words, are quite different than, say, a consumer products company that has to sell direct to the consumer. President Obama’s cherished Blackberry, for example, is manufactured almost entirely abroad because of the intense price pressure of that market.
And then there’s this. While government has been very good to American Seating, it hasn’t been so good to other Grand Rapids furniture makers. Union favoritism aside, Biden would likely have gotten a frosty reception from Herman Miller & Company because the Obama Administration is currently taking business from it. That’s right, the biggest U.S customer for office furniture — a market American Seating does not play in – is the federal government which is trying to steer federal contracts to the federally-owned Federal Prison Industries at the expense of West Michigan furniture makers.
So while one Grand Rapids company is benefiting from the federal government, others are being squeezed by it.
There’s a lesson in letting Washington get too involved in private industry. Beware of visiting veeps in election years.