GED holders, convicted criminals part of "every town's underbelly"
COLUMBIA, 5/25/12 (Beat Byte) -- Columbia Mayor Bob McDavid has no interest helping Columbia residents start businesses or hire new employees, preferring instead to direct job growth initiatives at out-of-area firms willing to hire people with criminal records and GEDs he said represent the "underbelly" of society.
Part of a rambling six-minute speech in defense of his "yes" vote for a board to oversee an Enhanced Enterprise Zone (EEZ) Monday night, the Mayor's words "managed to insult just about everybody," said one attendee at the City Council meeting. "He tried to make it sound reasonable, like he always does, by never raising his voice. But when you listen to what he actually says -- this was a shocker."
After listening to dozens of people testify against the plan, Dr. McDavid started his EEZ defense by talking about his post-election excitement as the new Mayoral board member of Regional Economic Development (REDI), dealing with out-of-state giants like Google and IBM. "I got to be in the room at Old Hawthorne" with these companies pitching deals, he said three times.
Then he turned to the "two kinds of people we're trying to get to locate here" -- "people who already live here or grew up here" and "companies with these boards in California looking for a nice place to start up."
"First, there's the bright people who are going to stay in Columbia no matter what. We've gotta be careful about offering incentives to them we don't need to. That's part of the challenge of this board," Dr. McDavid told the crowd. "If there's some Columbia people who are going to start a brewery in Columbia -- well, let's make sure we set this up, where if they're gonnna start a brewery in Columbia and hire 20 people, let's figure out a way NOT to abate them. I mean, they're gonna be in Columbia no matter what."
In other words, the EEZ board will pick and choose winners and losers, with a built-in prejudice against locals.
Mayor McDavid rattled off a list of "bright people in Columbia with brilliant ideas" the EEZ Board must not help, including two Mizzou grads who started a business that now employs 900 people in Columbia.
"Those are IT jobs," the Mayor explained. "They're not hiring people with GEDs. They're not hiring people with criminal records. I mean there are people out there, in Col...I mean, every town has its underbelly, and we're not serving that with the type of jobs we're really proud of."
Among pride-inspiring jobs that don't serve the town's "underbelly," Mayor McDavid cited "University jobs, information technology jobs, Missouri Innovation Center jobs, radiopharmaceutical jobs, nanotechnology jobs."
"There's just a lot of stuff goin' on," he said. "But they don't serve that population we're talking about."
By this time, audience members were audibly groaning.
"Whenever I pitch Columbia, I talk about the culture, the youth, the energy, the education, the parks and trails," McDavid went on. "I mean, it's a great place to live. But you know who I'm talking to....companies with these boards in California.
"They send a consultant in here and they're looking for a nice place to start up, a place to hire 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 people maybe. I mean production jobs -- jobs you can get without a college education that pay $35,000 a year with full benefits. Unfortunately, some of those people -- they don't care when I talk about the trails. It's a spreadsheet to them.
"They may go, paradoxically, to Centralia and their EEZ. Then what do we have -- thirty Columbians driving to Centralia putting their kids in the Columbia Public School system and the company paying Centralia's school tax. So that's why it's hard. It's hard to get these companies to come to Columbia."
Dr. McDavid lost several people at this point. "So he's saying companies will go to Centralia because of an EEZ, but their employees will live in Columbia and endure a 70 mile daily commute?" another attendee wondered. "What dumb company would set up an arrangement like that?"
"I agree with everybody in this room," Dr. McDavid said. "I wish we didn't have to do tax incentives. Wouldn't that be great?"