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From the Left Hand Corner: Our corporate conscience, or lack thereof

Our August Supreme Court recently ruled that our corporations are persons.

If so, shouldn’t they have a conscience and be considerate of other people, particularly their workers? It would be nice if they would make their decisions a little more people-oriented, and a little less almighty dollar-oriented, if they showed more conscience and maybe even a little compassion.

I’m thinking of a corporation — AGCO, which makes huge farm tractors — and another corporation closer to lake country minds, Wausau.

I don’t pretend to have all the exact numbers and other details exactly correct as I’m writing this, but rather based on recall of several news articles from the Minneapolis Tribune a week or so ago and some back a few months in the Trib and Brainerd papers.

The AGKO operation manufactures tractors in the several hundred thousand dollars per unit category, and, apparently, they cannot build them fast enough to meet demand. The base company, centered in one of our eastern states, decided to close its French manufacturing facility and start one up in our Midwest, where there is greater demand.

It selected the tiny town of Jackson, in the very southwest corner of Minnesota. It did so, making the site selection based almost entirely on the availability of an already constructed, large, empty building in Jackson, a town of a few hundred people. The whole Jackson area is of low density population.

Now, just a short time later, the AGKO facility is starving for suitable workers or, apparently, just about any workers for its expanding manufacturing operations.

AGKO started out in Jackson, gathering together approximately 700 workers, which meant the employment of just about every available worker from Jackson and the close surrounding area. AGKO quickly grew in answer to the demand, doubling the need for workers, and now is planning further expansion, seeking to triple the original work force.

What was to be a panacea for a small population with an empty building has already become a mixed blessing, causing great strain on existing infrastructure, public services and the whole area, inhabitants and facilities.

Just think of what might have been if the movers and shakers at AGKO had taken more time in looking around and had given Brainerd serious consideration instead of the much smaller and more isolated Jackson.

How opportune it would seem, since another conglomerate was bailing out of Brainerd, for AGKO to look at what it had to offer in comparison. Wausau, with its drive for the immediate dollar, and forgetting about the impact on its own people and community, was locking its local doors and leaving town. Admittedly Northwest-Potlatch-Wausau was designed for wood products manufacture, but the Jackson building wasn’t set up for huge AGKO tractor manufacture, either.

Brainerd had the ready made skilled work force of 700 at the start, most of whom could have been readily retrained and adapted to tractor manufacture for the original AGKO work force. The Brainerd area, with the highest statewide unemployment to begin with, could have handled any AGKO immediate need for other support staff, including maintenance, repair and transportation.

The immediate surrounding area could have easily provided personnel for the first AGKO expansion, not the 75- to 80-mile radius and two other states it had to draw its expansion force from.

Now, AGKO cannot find any more workers even from long travel distance or elsewhere in the state. It is searching nationwide and still cannot find additional workers, in large part because there simply isn’t anyplace within travel distance for potential workers to live. There is no housing available for families, and next to nothing available for single workers, plus nothing to do for their non-working hours.

Jackson area schools are understaffed and overcrowded. The business community has a greatly increased customer base, but is becoming overwhelmed. Necessities and amenities for worker families simply do not exist.

None of the above would have been very problemsome in the Brainerd area. The schools could easily absorb the increase in school population. The combined community college and technical college would be a great employee source, and a huge asset to accommodate the specialized needs of AGKO in expanding and training its work force.

The Brainerd-Baxter business communities would have welcomed and would have been more than adequate to provide whatever supplies and equipment the company needed, and any consumer goods that would be sought by its total personnel complement. Area businesses could have provided every product or service the total AGKO operation could have asked for.

There is existing and available, or potential, housing of every sort within short driving distance of the former Wausau facility, all within a radius much smaller than they experienced in the Jackson area when they first opened.

There may be reasons unknown as to why it wouldn’t have made more sense to relocate to Brainerd, but they aren’t very readily apparent.

What might have been is an interesting thought. It would have been better for a lot more people and, in the long view, probably more profitable. It certainly appears to be better than what is.

I wish the first George Bush’s expressed desire for a kinder, gentler nation would have come true. I also wish the more junior George’s self-labeling as a compassionate conservative had caught on more with corporate America.