Detroit News. April 3, 2019
Automakers shouldn't pay price for border fight
Detroit's automakers don't need any more help from President Donald Trump. The administration has kept the industry in almost perpetual turmoil, and another rash threat from the president to close the border with Mexico to all trade and traffic threatens to roil it again.
Trump declared earlier this week that he might cut off all trade with Mexico if that country doesn't actively deter illegal immigration.
Whether the president was serious is hard to tell. But automakers have seen so much that they didn't expect from this administration that they have to take everything Trump says seriously.
More than one-third of auto parts imported to the U.S. come from Mexico. Without those parts, many of this nation's auto plants would have to shut down. In Michigan, five assembly plants would likely be brought to a standstill if Mexican engines and other components are held at the border.
The auto industry accounts for 3.5 percent of the American economy, and more than 7 million jobs. If it goes down for an extended period of time, a national recession would be almost guaranteed.
Trump has already driven up costs and throttled employment growth in the industry with his ill-conceived tariffs on steel and aluminum and broader levies on goods from China. More than 60 percent of auto-related companies reported at the end of last year that the tariffs resulted in higher costs and lower profits and employment.
Yet the administration is weighting additional levies on imported cars and parts. A decision is expected from the president by next month.
Automakers have postponed investment because of the uncertainty created by the tariffs and the scrapping of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). A replacement for NAFTA has been negotiated, but there's no indication that it will move through Congress anytime soon.
There's also considerable uneasiness in the industry because the White House has not sent a clear signal on future emissions and mileage standards. That makes product and manufacturing planning much more difficult.
Adding a border closure would be more than automakers could bear. An industry that has helped lead America out of the Great Recession over the past decade could easily lead it into another economic downturn, this one created by bad policy.
Trump's instinct is to use out-sized threats to force Mexico to cooperate on border security and Democrats to give him a border wall.
But the biggest threat is to the American economy and its auto industry, which are bearing the brunt of the president's temperamental policy-making.
Traverse City Record-Eagle. April 2, 2019
'Two for two' benefits all who value our lakes
Another car ride, more good news for the Great Lakes.
Last week, President Donald Trump told a roaringly appreciative crowd that he will restore a 90 percent slash to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which dropped from $300 million to $30 million.
He announced the breaking news after a pitch from U.S. Reps. Bill Huizenga (R-Zeeland), John Moolenaar (R-Midland) and Jack Bergman (R-Watersmeet) in the 20-minute car ride from Gerald R. Ford International Airport to Van Andel Arena.
"They are beautiful," Trump said of the Great Lakes, as reported in the Detroit News. "They are big. Very deep. Record deepness, right? And I am going to get, in honor of my friends, full funding of $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which you've been trying to get for over 30 years."
He said he'd make the first move on Sunday, then jokingly asked if that was soon enough.
We couldn't be happier. That funding fights invasive species in the lakes — the Great Lakes ecosystem hosts more than 180 invasive and non-native species like zebra and quagga mussels — restores healthy habitats and cleans up pollution.
The move rings familiar.
Just last April, Bergman, Moolenaar and Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-Dryden) were riding with Trump — this time 19 miles from Selfridge Air Force Base to an arena rally in Macomb County. On the drive, they impressed the importance of the badly-needed modernizing of the Soo Locks. Trump announced at the rally that the locks were "going to hell" and pledged to take care of it and call the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that day or following days.
Soon after, after years of stalling, the modernization got traction in the form of a $922 million political vote of support for work spanning 7-10 years. Already the Army Corps has spent $32 million on design and added a $75.3 million construction line to next year's budget. Underscoring the timeliness of it all, the first 1,000 footer churned through the Soo Locks this weekend, starting the shipping season.
The Detroit News quoted Huizenga saying that Bergman said they were "two for two."
Their victory is ours, too, and spills over into the bigger picture of national and world impact, as our lakes contain a fifth of the world's fresh water supply.
But there's a theatrical element that we wish wasn't there.
It feels a little purposely contrived, like a reality show-style conflict that spans set-up to resolution in 27 minutes, starring our swashbuckling president and Republicans, cutting through red tape and tying it in a neat bow.
Let's remember the cut was created by the presidential budget to begin with for the third year running, the Soo Locks Restoration Bill was a bipartisan effort, and the good theater simplicity of pinning big decisions on car rides may mean that they could as easily and willfully be diverted.
Look, we understand how "taketh away" increases re-giveth appreciation. Mentally, it just counts more. And we all feel like winners, which is good, right?
We also have that Midwestern tendency not to look that gift horse in the mouth — besides looking ungrateful and rude, we could also spook the horse, right?
But we're fortunate that many of us Great Lakers have found an issue that doesn't politically polarize us: Protecting our lakes.
While the whys and wherefores are debatable, and boy, can we split hairs over policy, the overarching desire to keep our fresh water clean crisscrosses party lines, stitching us together.
We're grateful to our savvy representatives who got $270 million funding back in a 20-minute car ride. And potentially $922 million in another one.
These projects are popular because we all want clean water, and all politicians recognize this cross-party appeal. These swift, strong decisions help everyone.
Let's just keep a clear eye about it.
Traverse City Record-Eagle. April 3, 2019
Healthy questions about Ironman event
Not only are we fortunate to be surrounded by beauty but we are peopled with those who enjoy it.
Any day, any weather, many of us are out there, walking our pets, jogging, biking, hiking — taking it in. We walk by gyms with foggy windows, past a myriad of food options including organic co-ops and farmers markets. Active lifestyles and good food choices are prevalent here; our kids do beet tastings at school and bring home recipes for vegetarian dry bean chili. Talented and community-minded people and organizations are promoting health on many levels in many ways.
One of those efforts is to showcase our appeal to the affluent (average household income $247,000) well-educated (92 percent university educated) Ironman crowd.
We are proud that our inaugural Ironman 70.3 hosted here broke a sell-out record. We're not surprised — we know how much people want to experience what we have every day.
But as much as completing an Ironman is a personal, physical challenge for its expected 2,400 athletes — they'll swim 1.2 miles in West Grand Traverse Bay, bike 56 miles through the Leelanau, and run a half-marathon that ends outside the State Theatre — the event also challenges the host community.
Several longtime town, village and city hosts hold the Ironman event to clear community accounting of its cost versus benefit, and make decisions accordingly. This is a precedent Traverse City should follow as we put one foot in front of the other.
In recent years, several North American communities have pared back Ironman races from full to half (like ours) amid faltering registrations. (We don't have that problem). The Coeur d'Alene Press reported that other communities had trouble meeting the contract requirements for volunteers, disliked a lack of representation in Ironman marketing or balked at temporarily closing businesses without directly realizing any revenue.
The article pointed out that Ironman's (World Triathlon Corp.) ownership change to Chinese multinational corporation Dalian Wanda Group Co. in 2015 represents a gradual shift from North America-based Ironman races (the event started almost 20 years ago in Hawaii) to a more international tilt. One small town, Binz on Germany's Rugen Island, ended up opting out of continuing Ironman as costs to the municipality were becoming too high.
Each host venue enters into a contract with WTC. Traverse City Tourism is a private nonprofit that doesn't have to disclose the terms of the confidential contract, but other public bodies have shown non-confidential contracts with fees paid to WTC (usually $100,000 per year) as well as more specifics about the host support services.
The city council signed both a contract with Ironman, and also with TCT, which will pay the city any costs or damages associated with the event.
That said, Ironman seems like a terrific deal that could be the protein bar in our long race to health. Traverse City Tourism predicts the race could bring with it $10-15 million of regional impact, and planned the Aug. 25 race on a Sunday to contribute to an end-of-high-season economic boost. The athletes could fall in love with our area and invest in it long-term as we have.
Let's start off the block with clear questioning, community planning, experimentation and evaluation.
We're already on the right track.
People from the communities that are playing host are asking good questions, and will continue to do so at the Empire Township Hall tonight at 6 p.m. when the bike route is unveiled.
Traverse City has a two-year agreement with the WTC.
Next year's race will be on Aug. 30, 2020. We will be among the 10,000 or so spectators cheering this effort on — because being a healthy community is great.
Vigorous questioning is a part of that.