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have sounded the occasional note of concern about Titan subsidies, particularly the manner in which they were promised by the BEDC, then voted on much later. The Cameron County Commission, for instance, voted three-to-one to approve a ten-year, $2.5 million tax abatement for Titan last January, more than a year after the BEDC indicated in a letter that the company would receive the county’s abatement. Harlingen Commissioner James Matz, who cast the one opposing vote, says he didn’t learn of the abatement proposal until the day of the vote, and objected on the grounds that the commission had recently turned down a similar abatement request from Columbia Valley Regional Medical Center. “Why should we engage in that kind of tax burden shifting?” says Matz. “It’s corporate welfare…. There are times, there are degrees, but man, this was wholesale, and it was a slam dunk.” Carlos Cascos, another commissioner, voted for the abatement, but agrees that there was “probably a communication gap” in the approval process: “My understanding was that the commitment was made by, the county judge’s office,” Cascos said. “There obviously was a tremendous economic impact, tremendous economic benefits” from the new jobs at the Titan plant, said Cascos, but “we need to identify the abatement process a little bit better.” Representative Oliveira, who chairs the House Economic Development Committee and co-wrote the law that created the Smart Jobs Fund, said that competition among communities for large employers “has concerned me always, particularly within the state.” The Smart Jobs Fund was established “to retrain and upgrade workers,” says Oliveira, not as an incentive for luring new business, but the two are not mutually exclusive. As for working conditions and wages, “the living wage is something that’s being looked at” by the committee. “Workers need to make $8 an hour to be close to a living wage and not fall under poverty level guidelines. Not every [Smart Jobs] grant has met that.” Oliveira said that he’s aware of VIDA’ s concerns about Titan pay levels, but that he’s received assurances from Titan’s Chuck Smith that the company will compensate its workers adequately. Titan’s Brownsville plant is scheduled to begin producing tires in October, though in late August the enormous prefab steel building on Paredes Line Road was still largely empty, and the company hadn’t yet hired any tire builders. \(About seventy mechanics and electricians were at various stages of the training Moines’ Campbell in his show of optimism. “It’s not often you get the opportunity to create a culture,” he said. “That’s what we have here, and I think that’s real neat.” Smith repeatedly praised the welcome Titan has received from all sectors of the Brownsville community. “I want to emphasize how helpful local civic and governmental organizations have been to help this come about…. We feel like we’re going to be the best employer in the Valley.” As for the wages to be paid by the best employer in the Valley, Smith said that it was too early to say. “I hate to commit to a figure at this point. Our wages are going to be competitive.” Although two mid-size American cities could hardly be more dissimilar than Des Moines and Brownsville, each holds a mirror up to what the newspapers keep referring to as our vibrant economy, the official American good times which, for reasons officially unknown, haven’t yet made their impression on the average pocketbook. In Des Moines, a city of insurance companies, strip malls, and the Iowa state fair, unemployment is practically nonexistent. “Yes, unemployment is low,” says Mark Smith, president of the Iowa AFL-CIO. “What they don’t report is, so are wages. We’re fortieth or forty-first in the country.” Meanwhile Brownsville struggles with its persistent doubledigit unemployment, and yet it, too, is part of the boom: economic growth in the Texas border region “will continue to outstrip that of the state,” for the next two decades, predicts Sharp’s report, spurred on by “rapid gains in construction, transportation, and business and health services.” “On the down side,” the same report notes, “the general prosperity of the region will continue to be hampered by low wages, a steady influx of new workers looking for jobs, and high unemployment.” For all their differences, the two cities have the wage problem in common: low wages are the “down side” of the economic picture in Iowa and Texas alike. And behind this impersonal fact are individuals like Taylor and the businesses they run. “Guys like Morry Taylor, that’s why we need unions,” said striking Des Moines worker Lee Reinholdt, who was manning the Steelworkers’ booth at the Iowa state fair one evening. Local 162 had a small space in the fair’s Agriculture and Industries Building, which was packed with a mix of government-political booths \(the Iowa Secretary of Mostly the latter: Reinholdt and his anti-Morry Taylor flyers were lost among the pianos, aluminum siding, Jacuzzis, cabinets, and wonder mops. Reinholdt himself was almost apologetic: “You’re the only one who’s really stopped and talked to me. But you know,” he said, gesturing to the home furnishings around us, “people come here and want to have a good time.” Beyond the fairground, though, the Steelworkers’ campaign is mounting. In addition to the Des Moines and Natchez strikes, the International is conducting an organizing drive at the Titan plant in Clinton, Tennessee. It aggressively sought an alternative purchaser for a Pennsylvania steel plant that Titan had bid on; it has handbilled Titan plants in Virginia and Wisconsin; and it plans to organize the Quincy, Illinois wheel plant. In Brownsville, “we’re going to be contacting new employees with an attempt to start an organizing campaign,” says International representative Doug NiehOuse. “We’re also trying to build a community campaign in support of the workers of Titan not against the Brownsville plant, but to raise awareness about what’s going on, about the type of employer this is.” In Brownsville, a city which has preferred thus far not to know too much about Titan, they have their work cut out for them. “I WANT TO EMPHASIZE HOW HELPFUL LOCAL CIVIC AND GOVERNMENTAL ORGA-NIZATIONS HAVE BEEN TO HELP THIS COME ABOUT…. WE FEEL LIKE WE’RE GOING TO BE THE BEST EMPLOYER IN THE VALLEY.” AS FOR THE WAGES TITAN WOULD PAY … SMITH SAID IT WAS TOO EARLY TO SAY. OCTOBER 9, 1998 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13