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JOBS ARE JOBS
In researching this book, I asked countless public officials, economists, and executives why investment from overseas is such a necessary part of the American economy. Each time, I received the exact same answer: jobs. Samuel Adcock, the senior vice president of government affairs for EADS, said, "You can argue about the name above the door...[but] at some point, new American jobs are American jobs."
This very sentiment—that jobs are jobs—is how Michigan's governor, Jennifer M. Granholm, firmly defended the half dozen foreign trade missions she has made since taking office in 2003, all aimed at bringing investments in research and technology to her beleaguered state. "I'll go anywhere and do anything to bring jobs to Michigan," she told me, even as she fervently pleaded in Washington for a bailout for her state's carmakers. Donald Grimes, an economist with the Institute for Labor and Industrial Relations at the University of Michigan, one of the country's top economic forecasters, completely endorses this line of reasoning. Grimes, who is well known to listeners of National Public Radio and viewers of The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS, regularly compiles data that is used by the governors and legislatures of a number of states, including Michigan. Resistance to foreign investment "goes against the fundamental idea that the world is a more integrated place" he said. "Look at these jobs—there are lots of jobs here."
Those jobs are everywhere—not just in traditional manufacturing centers such as Detroit or the Rust Belt. Foreign companies employ Americans everywhere from Alaska to Florida; there are foreign-owned companies employing American workers in every one of the fifty states. In Indiana alone, for example, one out of every seven manufacturing jobs comes from a company based outside the United States. And the payoff has been invaluable. Without foreign investment, said Mitch Daniels, the Republican governor of Indiana, "We'd be a dust bowl."
Foreign investment has been the single most important economic factor that has helped lift the Deep South out of the past and into a high-tech future. It is a collective strategy that could be seen as the South's economic revenge on the North, some 150 years after the end of the Civil War. Governors from South Carolina to Texas, from Kentucky to Georgia have relentlessly courted foreign companies, using the lures of tax breaks, laws that make it difficult for unions to organize, and their courtly hospitality. In short, they want foreign investment and will do whatever it takes to get it.
With good reason: Few states have reaped the benefits of foreign investment more than Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee, often referred to as "Detroit South" because of the influx of automotive plants in the past decade. (The political and economic power of these "new domestics" became evident in 2008, when southern lawmakers nicknamed "the Toyota Republicans" fought hard against the congressional bailout of the American automakers.) Nor are they finished. In the next decade, these states hope to join forces to create a development corridor for aviation, both commercial and military.
Even states that might seem to be bastions of American investment have healthy numbers of foreign-company employees, including nearly 200,000 workers in Michigan, long dominated by the American automobile industry. In Pennsylvania, where steel mills and coal mines have been traditional sources of blue-collar work, firms from outside the United States employ some 250,000 workers—some of them in mills now owned by foreign companies.
It is no surprise that California, which has long led the nation in embracing new trends and attracting immigration, has by far the most employees from foreign companies; more than 560,000 Californians earn a paycheck from a firm based outside the United States, according to the Organization for International Investment (OFII). Most of the Japanese auto companies, as well as Hyundai of Korea, have their American headquarters in California. The entertainment industry has a variety of companies such as Sony and Universal Studios (both, of course, based in California) that have a number of influential foreign shareholders. New York, with nearly 400,000 employees of foreign companies among its residents, is second in terms of the number of jobs created by foreign investment, largely because of investments in the financial sector. All told, this global payroll in the United States is more than $365 billion--about twice the GDP of Saudi Arabia. While the assembly line and unskilled jobs generally capture more attention, the fact is that these facilities also create large numbers of higher-paying managerial and skilled jobs, which are equally, if not more, important to a state's economic base.
Though in some parts of the country, the stigma of working for a foreign-owned company might still linger, Gary N. Chaison, professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, theorizes it is largely gone. Tied to the stigma of buying foreign-made products, it started to disappear, he argues, when Americans started to buy Japanese products (mostly cameras and television sets) during the 1970s, and was further diluted once Americans started flocking to Japanese cars (which now comprise more than 40 percent of American automobile sales). Today, he reasons, with the recent flood of goods from China and other parts of Asia, the shame of buying from—or working for—an overseas company is largely gone. "The line is so blurred that there is no antipathy to working in the United States for a foreign firm," he says.
Many of the workers I spoke with feel the same way. Marty Chapman, the president of the chamber of commerce in Putnam County, West Virginia, said there was little concern among local residents about the implications of working for a foreign carmaker when Toyota opened an engine plant there in 1997. "They just wanted the jobs," he said. It is easy to understand why. Nearly one in four American manufacturing jobs has vanished since 2000, and forty thousand factories have closed since 1998, according to the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a Washington trade group. In 2008, in fact, as the economy crumbled and factory orders--everything from computer chips to steel casings—plummeted to record lows, manufacturing jobs accounted for nearly a third of all those lost in the United States. "We're at a point where a good job is a good job, and benefits are benefits, whether the companies are based here or somewhere else," said Chaison.
From the Hardcover edition.