Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens came to Riverside, Mo., Tuesday to promote his tax cut proposal and to claim credit for the state’s low unemployment rate.
In his speech to workers, though, Greitens failed to mention the news of the day: Hundreds of employees at the nearby Harley-Davidson motorcycle plant were losing their jobs.
An oversight? No. After the speech, Greitens said he was aware of Harley’s decision to close its Kansas City factory. The state, he said, would spring into action — by helping the company’s workers polish their resumes.
If Greitens or Missouri did anything to try to save the plant, he didn’t mention it.
The governor’s reaction to the Harley news seemed ham-handed. A one-line mention of Harley-Davidson during his speech might have reassured those workers that Missouri cared about their situation.
More broadly, Greitens can’t have it both ways. If he’s going to take credit when jobs are growing, he must take responsibility when factories close.
The governor resisted that view. “Those jobs were lost at Harley-Davidson because of declining sales,” he said. “We’re taking responsibility for what we’re doing here.”
Well, whatever the governor is “doing here” clearly wasn’t enough to keep Harley-Davidson in Kansas City.
That fact provides an important lesson for Missouri and Kansas.
Just a few months ago, local boosters were working tirelessly to prepare a bid for Amazon’s new headquarters. Last year, the Sam Brownback administration laid out the fiscal red carpet for Tyson Foods.
The Kansas City area has long offered abatements, credits and other incentives for new companies. Now, Greitens is offering to cut the corporate tax rate by one-third to attract businesses.
Somehow, though, keeping existing companies often attracts less attention. The Kansas City Harley-Davidson plant, with 800 workers, slipped through everyone’s fingers.
It’s a serious blow. The lost jobs are painful enough for the workers, but they will have a ripple effect with other businesses in the area. Kansas City will lose several hundred thousand dollars in earnings tax revenue.
It’s possible there was nothing anyone could have done to keep the plant open. Harley asked for and got substantial incentives over the years, and perhaps no additional tax breaks or credits would have made a difference.
But keeping existing businesses is at least as important as attracting new ones.
In November, Nucor said it plans to build a steel plant in Sedalia, promising to add 250 jobs. The announcement drew a smiling Greitens, local officials, a big American flag.
Tuesday’s loss of 800 jobs — which more than cancels out the Nucor jobs — brought public silence.
“It’s tragic any time we lose a job in the state of Missouri,” Greitens told reporters Tuesday. Harley’s workers should have heard that sentiment directly from him.