Thursday, August 24, 2006

"Corporations Good" Awardee: Musco

My law school colleagues parody my approach to corporate abuses as, simply, "Corporations bad."

In fact, I have (almost) nothing against the corporate form as such; what I find objectionable is the behavior of corporate officers and board members that is at a minimum anti-social and often actually in violation of law. (See my discussion of the movie, "The Corporation," in Nicholas Johnson, "'The Corporation' and the Search for Agreement," October 1, 2004.)

As proof, I today present my first "Corporations Good" Award to the Musco Corporation, manufacturer of outdoor lighting.

I'm indebted to Bradley Franzwa for bringing this morning's (August 24) story in The Gazette to my attention. Associated Press, "Musco Plans $15 Million Expansion; Lighting Company's Employment Could Triple in Oskaloosa," The Gazette, August 24, 2006. Having abandoned any notion that I would include every Iowa economic development story on my rain forest Web site, I must have just skipped over the story, based on that headline.

The good news is that there is at least one corporation in Iowa willing to undertake a major capital expenditure without coming, tin cup in hand, asking for taxpayers' money.

The bad news is that this is so unusual -- sort of a "Man Bites Dog!" headline -- that it is worthy of comment and a "Corporations Good" Award: "American Business Executive Practices Free Private Enterprise," "Extra! Extra! Read all about it!"

It reminded me of my observation when I felt I was getting a little too much attention, during my own "15 minutes of fame" as an FCC commissioner, for just doing my job: "unfortunately, it’s headline news in Washington that 'Public Official Serves Public Interest!'” (Quoted in, e.g., the Rolling Stone cover story, Howard Junker, "The Greening of Nicholas Johnson," Rolling Stone, April 1, 1971 ("[Johnson] has never called a press conference in Washington").)

The Gazette's story this morning contained the following about Musco Lighting, based in Oskaloosa, Iowa, and founded 30 years ago by Joe Crookham, President:

‘‘'Now that we’re successful in business we don’t need help, and it seems foolish to me to tax the general public to help us,' he said.

Moreover, "Crookham said his company will donate about $1 million to various organizations in Oskaloosa this year, and it wouldn’t make sense to turn around and ask for money to expand.
The city’s tax dollars will be better spent on things like recreation, schools and streets that make it a better place for his employees to live, he said. ‘It’s part philosophical, philanthropic, in part it’s just plain good business to say we’ll spend our money to do this stuff and you guys spend the community’s money on making it a better community,' he said."

Ironically, not only is Crookham right as a matter of civic responsibility and good corporate citizenship, he's also right as a matter of effective economic development. As many economists, and business persons, point out -- and was underscored by Whirlpool's rejection of Iowa Governor Vilsack's $100 million offer of taxpayers' money to the firm -- business decisions are driven by many more factors than upfront cash. Among them are the quality of the work force, educational system, transportation system (relevant in Siemens' recent decision to locate in Mt. Pleasant), communications networks, cultural and recreational facilities.

The philosophy, and the winning economic development strategy, is summed up in Crookham's approach: "we'll spend our money to do this stuff and you guys spend the community's money on making it a better community."

How refreshing!

And how embarrassing one would hope it would be seen to be, for advocates of the Iowa Values Fund, tax breaks, and other forms of corporate welfare.

The fact is, there are a number of corporate leaders who have set a good example on this, and other matters over the years.

I'm reminded, when I was Maritime Administrator, of Jacob Isbrandtsen's willingness to operate cargo ships without the U.S. government's subsidy payments other ship owners argued were essential to their continued operation; of Donald McGannon's decision to take all cigarette advertising off of the Westinghouse stations, long before Congress legislated their illegality, despite the loss in corporate profits. Or Tom Carter's willingness to sell off his Texas cattle ranches to pay for 13 years of litigation that finally established (in one of the rare majority FCC opinions that I wrote) the right of all of us to use equipment other than that manufactured and owned by AT&T. Carterfone, 13 FCC2d 420 (1968).

So today it's "Hat's Off" to Joe Crookham of Musco Lighting; our first "Corporations Good" Awardee. Hopefully it will prove to be just the first of many.

[Upon reading this, one of my colleagues (who joins those who characterize me as "corporations bad"), suggested I take a look at Cynthia Steuben, "I Just Love Corporations!," Korporation Korner, The Onion, 33*04, February 3, 1998. Cute piece, so I thought I'd add it here for anyone who's read this blog entry of mine this far.]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi, my name is Roxanne, I read your article and I just wanted to know what exactly you thought about Joe Crookham. Lots of people in the Oskaloosa area think that he's "bad" and some people think he is just awesome because he's pouring money into Oskaloosa. What is your thoughts on it exactly? Would love to hear what you think.
Roxanne Popelka