New Orleans We hear a lot of big talk these about creating jobs, especially manufacturing jobs, and their disappearance, including going south to Mexico. The President-elect has been going wild with his Tweeter-finger about a Steelworkers’ local union president having the gall to correct his claims on how many jobs he and his team saved at the Indiana Carrier air-conditioner plant by reminding the Trumpster that 300 jobs he claimed were never slated to go. Trump may not have learned a lesson about his standard operating exaggeration, but he may have learned that that $7 million in tax incentives might save 700 jobs, but I don’t want to get side-tracked. My point is less about his bully-boy fibbing than how hard it is to create and save jobs.
On KABF’s Wade’s World, I discussed this with Spencer Nash, the head of the Delta Foundation, headquartered in Greenville, Mississippi. The foundation was created in 1969 by fourteen community-based organizations in and around the southern Mississippi, where new jobs were desperately needed given the automation in these rural areas dominated by cotton and soybeans. Their strategy was to acquire small manufacturing plants and expand their businesses and employment.
Nash said their biggest and most successful operation was an electronics company in Canton, Mississippi, most famous for the huge Nissan auto plant located in the same town. Delta Enterprises, the for profit subsidiary created by the foundation, manufactures electric switches for various customers, including Cummins Engine and others, as well as various types of tubing. Their biggest customer may be the Department of Defense, so sales go up with Republican administrations when military spending increases, and down with the Democrats. I remembered at one point they had a window fan factory in Memphis. Nash also told the story of a plant Delta owned in Little Rock that made attic staircases. They had to sellout in recent years because they could not compete with Mexico. The company that bought them, moved the equipment south of the border, so those jobs were lost. The impact of NAFTA can be counted in the scores of jobs as well as the hundreds, but the pain is the same.
So what is the future for jobs in places like the rural South or anywhere else? Nash made some interesting points.
Delta is watching closely a recent job training success they ran where 18 of 20 enrolled in a program to create construction skills in electricity, plumbing, and so forth all successfully found higher-waged, stable employment. He sees improving housing stock and building new, affordable units as a huge job opportunity, if there is support in the housing sector, citing Greenville, which lost a quarter of its population between the 2000 and 2010 Census, as an example where there is tremendous need. He surprised me by pointing out that only about 35 miles up the road in a town so near where my grandparents lived and died and where my mother and uncles were raised, that I had been through it more times than I can count, Cleveland, Mississippi was a success story in growth and job creation. Training and skill-education programs had attracted industry and jobs, supported by the city and Delta State University.
Spencer Nash and the Delta Foundation face the new administration with trepidation, but maintain their mission of creating jobs in the delta with hope, if there are resources to train and teach the skills needed to work in small manufacturing and construction, and, importantly, if there is support for new housing development for low-and-moderate income families. When we discussed the nomination of Dr. Ben Carson to lead HUD, the hope was tempered by skepticism, but it is encouraging to hear that there are at least some paths to progress being paved on very hard ground.