I grew up in Greenville, Michigan. My mom married my wonderful step-father, and we moved into a home on W. Montcalm Street, where we lived from 1987 until we all graduated from high school. My parents now own their own home, still living in Greenville while us kids have all moved on, but Greenville will always be home to me.
I always think of it as a fairly typical small town. It has quaint streets, with quaint homes, surrounded by fields. Many of my classmates have all fled onto bigger and better things, and often it seems the men running the show are protecting their coveted old boys club.
We grew up next to the Flat River. It was fabulous in the winter time because that’s where the snow-trucks would bring all the snow collected from the streets. We had an instant snow-fort courtesy of the weather and the convenience of putting it there. There was a pretty big hill two houses down, and immediately behind our house “woods”. Now, these woods weren’t like Forest Park, but they were ours. They gave us blackberries in the summer, and offered me a tree to climb and think when all I wanted to be was alone. Further down from that tree, was the hill two houses down from ours. This was our sledding hill. Other kids, and occasionally, we too would go to Tower Park. But, overall, this hill made many a fun, bundled winter day. (Climbing back up it was always the trick.)
Across from the river sat Gibson’s. Or, Gibson’s as I knew it when we lived in the house. It always seemed there was some campaign to keep Gibson’s from moving to South/North Carolina or Mexico, some campaign to keep the jobs in Greenville. This is not unlike that which Lansing does with its Blue Ribbon campaigns in some vain attempt to keep G.M. there with open doors. Soon, Gibson’s fled, and Frigidaire took its place. My brother even worked there after high school (college wasn’t his road to follow). But, he was laid off after a year or two, along with a few of his friends. I had since moved away from Greenville, and my interest in local politics faded as I encountered new local politics. Soon, I heard Frigidaire was leaving, and now cynicism set in, no longer was I surprised that another manufacturing giant was leaving.
I was surprised that Electrolux moved in, but not surprised when they left. So, today, I stumbled upon Greenville’s City ad linking to the above referenced PDF, an ad for the over 400,000 square feet of manufacturing/storage space built in 1981. I have since learned that a very large percent of manufacturing firms have left Greenville including a theater-seat maker, many tool & die shops, and other auto-related industries.
While at Portland State, I learned of a term called “Smokestacking.” Smokestacking is the process where local governments offer manufacturers cheaper tax deals than their neighbor in an effort to entice the manufacturer to set up shop in their locale, providing jobs and economic stimulus for their town. What often happens is the company keeps moving to the next lower tax deal. We can observe how local communities have changed to states and countries, as we see in our very large global economy. So, with the manufacturer always leaving, and with it leaving often thousands unemployed, destroying a tax base, and driving taxes down further in another town, local services are then consistently lowered. In a global economy, when wages are constantly driven down, in the long run everyone’s standard of living is driven down with it. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
It’s such an old adage, that it almost seems like fact. It happens so often, it’s like we’ve let the adage itself take control instead of facing the responsibilities for our own lives. I find this particularly puzzling when I see that Greenville is offering another smokestack deal to some unnamed manufacturing firm to set up where Gibson’s, Frigidaire, and Electrolux have all left. I am reminded of what Einstein said regarding psychosis, where someone is insane when they do the same thing over again expecting different results. What different will happen if taxes are cut further to attract some industry that will be viewed as a hopeful panacea. What different will really happen when the tears well up and shock settles as yet another manufacturing firm leaves? What will it take for the citizens of my home town to realize they have the power to change that?
Several years ago, during another bank merger, a big bank came in and bought out a more local bank. Nary a person liked the new big bank, so a group of local investors created their own bank, Greenville Community Bank. Why don’t the citizens of Greenville take that same type of stamina and courage and forge ahead in an industry that hasn’t been tried in Greenville? Why don’t they try something different to boost the eonomy, bring in jobs, and create a better style of living for all its citizens? Afterall, we are only as strong as the weakest link. And, perhaps that’s the metaphor here. It looks like the same old boys club playing by the same old tired rules, trying to change something without changing the game plan. And, as Einstein told us, that’s insane.
See the continuation of this story here.