As Tennesseans look at that newly renovated auto plant idling down in Spring Hill, they should be asking themselves one question.
No, not "Do ya feel lucky?" although that question would also be apropos. What we should be asking ourselves is what Barack Obama is really about? Is he about business or is he about politics? Because if the answer is anything but business that idle plant in Spring Hill is fixing to stay that way.
It was only a week ago that GM announced that the Spring Hill assembly plant will be idled and production of its Chevrolet Traverse relocated to Lansing, Mich. Our plant will now compete against another Michigan plant in Orion as well as one in Janesville, Wis. for the rights to build a new subcompact car believed to be the Chevy Spark.
On paper this "competition" shouldn't even be one. The Spring Hill plant, built in 1990, is the newest of the three plants and just last year went through a 12-month retooling process to build the Chevy Traverse. The investment in the plant was believed to exceed $600 million and included a 500,000-square-foot addition to the plant paint shop. The facility's 1.2 million-square-foot general assembly area was also completely rebuilt.
On the other hand, Janesville is GM's oldest plant, having opened in 1919. The Orion plant was built in 1983 and while GM did spend $10 million dollars on the plant to upgrade the paint shop and more than $165 million to build the Chevy Malibu, it still has nowhere near the flexibility of Spring Hill. Tennessee's advantage is that GM can build a whole car at one site at Spring Hill.
Orion does have roughly 700 or so more employees than Spring Hill but Spring Hill has an agreement with workers, approved by the local UAW, to operate the plant seven days a week without overtime.
As Gov. Phil Bredesen told the AP Monday, "Spring Hill is a modern plant, it is a very flexible plant. With small cars, a good part of the issue is being able to build them inexpensively and competitively, and we've got all the tools to do that."
Indeed. Matched up on paper there is little to refute that Spring Hill is far and away the best plant of the three. So our chances at getting picked must be pretty good. Right?
Our chances are poor, really poor. In every business decision there is a certain degree of politics involved. However, when the business involved is a corporation recently taken over by the federal government there is a lot of politics involved.
After news broke that Spring Hill and the plant in Orion would be in competition, Michigan Sen. Carl Levin told reporters the following.
“We’re going to do what every other representative and member of the Senate will do from these states and districts,” Levin said. “There’ll be plenty of jawboning, persuasion.”
Sounds like a political negotiation to be me. And as armed to the teeth as Spring Hill is on the business side, it is just as outgunned when it comes to the political side.
Tennessee, after all, is not exactly Obama country. We didn't vote for the President. In the general, we went hard for McCain. In the primary, we went for Hillary Clinton. Our U.S. senators are both Republicans. One of whom, Sen. Bob Corker, has been quite outspoken on issues surrounding the auto bailout and GM.
While Corker may have gained a certain amount of respect and notoriety for his outspokenness on the issue, what he did not do was bank a lot of love with either the auto industry or the Obama administration.
Our Democrats aren't much better. We have a lame duck governor who told the President to stay out of the state and go to Wal-Mart to learn about the common man. We have Congressmen like John Tanner who endorsed Hillary Clinton and Lincoln Davis who expressed tepid support (at best) for Obama even once the general election campaign got under way. Even the man who endorsed him early, Rep. Jim Cooper got into a bit of trouble not too long ago for implying that he was given permission from the administration to vote against the stimulus.
So, as you can see, we're not holding a lot of cards here. Our only hope, and its just that, a hope, is that Obama's recent spate of collecting Republicans and former opponents as allies continues and that the President decides to keep the state that rejected him close to his political bosom.
If not, we better pray that Obama takes the politics out if the equation entirely and keeps the decision very much strictly business.