Monday, March 8, 2010

The Auto Town Ambassador

Louis Uchitelle of The New York Times profiles Edward B. Montgomery today. The executive director of the White House Council on Automotive Communities and Workers has made several trips to Flint, and Mayor Dayne Walling is quoted in the article:

On his travels he has helped to channel millions of dollars from the stimulus package and other government pools. He does not know, he says, just how many millions. At many of the stops, particularly in Ohio, which went for George W. Bush in 2004 and just barely for Obama in the last presidential election, there is an implicit political message in this largess. It goes something like this: Stick with the president and the Democratic Party, and while we cannot bring back mass production with its large-scale employment, we can help you in the transition to other sources of income and jobs.

“What they are doing is all well and good,” said Daniel Luria, research director of the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center. “But if you are one of the people in distress, what you really want is a national manufacturing strategy that insures that the share of what is made here does not continue to fall.”

Mr. Montgomery describes that thinking as unwarranted interference in the private sector, and counterproductive. “The question of whether you should order private companies to locate in these communities; that is not a prescription for success,” he said.

His approach has produced results that are hard to measure. He has visited Flint, Mich., for example, three times in the last year, and the unemployment rate remains above 25 percent. On the other hand, several hundred additional people are enrolled in job training as a result of stimulus money that Mr. Montgomery steered to Flint, according to the mayor, Dayne Walling. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency is moving more quickly than it otherwise would have, the mayor said, to clear former factory sites for other commercial use.

“That was a thicket that Montgomery’s people helped us to navigate,” the mayor said.


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