Regions of Mind

Self-assured but self-questioning.

U.S. regionalism,
foreign policy,
politics, life.

Geitner Simmons is an editorial writer with the Omaha World-Herald.
This weblog expresses his personal views only.
He is also
a Midwesterner,
a Southerner,
a husband, a father, a son. And always
a student.

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Sunday, March 14

Regions of Mind has moved to a new location, here.

Saturday, March 13
Hit and run

The lead editorial at the Omaha World-Herald today has some pointed observations about the way that Capitol Hill politicians treated the Nebraska businessman Bush was considering for the "manufacturing czar" position. The editorial:

Tony Raimondo, one of Nebraska's most accomplished business leaders, was the victim this week of an egregious case of political hit and run in the nation's capital. His reputation became entangled with presidential politics and in remarkably short order was trashed -- without justification.

The situation is doubly exasperating because, at this point, protesting against the way he was mistreated does little good. The Capitol Hill politicians and Beltway press corps, which spent a frenzied day on Thursday holding up Raimondo in cardboard-cutout terms as a supposed schemer of job outsourcing, have quickly moved on to other matters.

Sen. Ben Nelson (a Democrat) and Rep. Lee Terry (a Republican) both acted commendably by offering forceful defenses of fellow Nebraskan Raimondo, the chairman and CEO of Columbus-based Behlen Manufacturing. President Bush was about to name Raimondo this week as the administration's "manufacturing czar" -- until the campaign of the prospective Democratic presidential contender, Sen. John Kerry, decided to play politics with the nomination.

A press release from the Kerry camp indicated that Behlen, which makes prefabricated buildings, livestock equipment, plastics and industrial products, laid off 75 U.S. workers in 2002 four months after announcing plans to build a $3 million factory in China.

The implication was that Raimondo is among the "Benedict Arnold CEOs" whom Kerry has berated for shipping American jobs overseas.

The claim was nonsense. But it was enough to set off a train of demagogic attacks on Raimondo from Capitol Hill Democrats. Raimondo decided to withdraw his name from consideration rather than prolong the political circus.

In reality, Raimondo heads one of Nebraska's most impressive business enterprises, a company that has achieved success by pursuing a well-conceived long-term strategy of product diversification and export growth.

Behlen's new plant in China will make products for that country's domestic market and won't take jobs away from this country. Barry Kennedy, president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce, noted the bigger picture when he told the Columbus Telegram that "there's probably about 100 jobs in Columbus because Behlen is doing business in China."

Far from bilking its employees, Behlen is known for amply sharing the rewards with workers during good times. (It is an employee-owned company, after all.)

If Raimondo were the type of CEO who cynically sacrifices his company's U.S. workers for the sake of overseas expansion, Nebraskans most certainly would have heard an outcry against him within the state. Instead, he has a sterling reputation as a skilled business leader.

It would have behooved members of Congress and the Beltway press corps to take note of these realities, quite familiar to Nebraskans, before tarring Tony Raimondo as the type of disreputable business executive that he certainly is not.

Some additional information:

Behlen is a forward-looking company that works hard to involve workers in boosting productivity. Employees have responded well to the company's emphasis on training and financial incentives for productivity gains.

Like most manufacturing companies, Behlen has had to cope with big challenges during the recent recession. Several years ago when orders fell precipitously in the face of the national economic downturn, Behlen sought to limit the layoffs by reducing weekly hours for around 400 factory workers and asking salaried employees to take a 10 percent pay cut. When the economy improved, the company put the workers back on full-time and eliminated the 10 percent pay cut.

Raimondo, who is the board of the National Association of Manufacturers and chairman of the Omaha branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, can't even be described as a narrow Republican partisan. While he's firmly in the camp of President Bush, he's long been known as an enthusiastic supporter of Sen. (and former Nebraska Gov.) Ben Nelson, a Democrat.

By the way: I posted at my old Blogspot site because my current blog server, Blog-City, was having technical problems at the moment. My current site is now back up.