Monday, July 21, 2008

Buyer Beware of The Tennessean’s Sales Job on the New VW plant

Posted By on Mon, Jul 21, 2008 at 4:56 PM

The Tennessean employs a rather interesting format on its Opinion page. Take one issue, offer the house view, then grab three outsiders to provide contrasting arguments. In theory, it’s a grand idea. Readers are served a buffet of competing notions, and can decide for themselves where they land on the issue. But in Sunday’s paper, theory went out the window when Chattanooga’s new VW plant was the catch of the day. Okay, so it’s hard to argue against new jobs—especially auto jobs, the best blue collar work remaining in America. But since the deal involves a handsome slice of corporate welfare – welfare of a magnitude yet specified—it would seem The Tennessean might wish to flush out a very basic question: Is the plant a truly smart play for Tennessee? Unfortunately, the paper went in a different direction, offering up prime real estate to two politicians and a VW exec to let us know that this is the best thing conceived since Christ or beer. We begin with Governor Phil Bredesen, who carefully walks us through how Governor Phil Bredesen made this wonderful turn of events possible. For all this, dear reader, you can thank Governor Phil Bredesen. Then we have U.S. Senator Bob Corker, who must have employed a rather zealous staffer to ghost write his praise. Bob takes the time to remind us of how much he did as mayor of Chattanooga, then kicks his gushing into overdrive: “Volkswagen's announcement affects every person in our state and will for generations.” Also on board is Stefan Jacoby, chief of VW’s American branch. He offers all the platitudes one expects from a corporate chieftain who’s just been give a huge pile of money to be your friend. Finally, we hear from the editors, who argue that Tennesseans should be “justifiably revved.” Not till later in the story is the elephant in the room revealed: “The choice by Volkswagen does not come without reciprocal help, in the form of incentives from the state and local levels. Those incentives need to be fully revealed to Tennesseans, although Volkswagen officials say the incentives were not the driving force behind the move, and state officials are either being coy or genuinely don't know the full package yet to give details on incentives.” So there it is, boys and girls. The paper just spent an entire page praising this divine gift, but said gift is being paid for with your money, and the aforementioned pols you just heard from won’t reveal the pricetag. The plant may very well be a great blessing. But whenever salesmen gush about a product’s features, yet are loath to reveal price, the fine print is bound to be nasty.

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