Bye buy local

June 5, 2008

Looks like Councilwoman Karen Goldner and I have our first official disagreement:

Everyone on council supported the city doing business with local vendors, but opponents said the measure, introduced by Councilwoman Karen Goldner, D-2nd District, would unnecessarily complicate the process for vendors and city employees alike.

[. . .]

The administration of Mayor Tom Henry, a Democrat, opposed it, however. Jim Howard, the city’s director of purchasing, and City Attorney Carol Taylor argued against it during Tuesday’s council meeting.

Appearing before council, Howard said complying with the ordinance would require hiring an additional staff member and, probably, more training for the rest of the purchasing department. He estimated that would cost an additional $58,000 yearly in salary and benefits for the position, plus perhaps $30,000 for new software and maintenance.

Even if the provision didn’t complicate the process or require additional staff, it would be of dubious worth. Buy-local is protectionism on a small scale and has the usual effects of such plans: more cost to the taxpayer. And public officials’ first duty is to provide the taxpayer with the best value for the money possible. If local vendors want the city’s business, they should be as capable as any outside vendor of learning and following the city’s requirements. Let the city (and the state, too, Gov. Daniels) buy where it can get the best deal, whether it’s down the the street or across the country.

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5 Responses to “Bye buy local”

  1. J. Q. Taxpayer Says:

    So everyone should run out and purchase goods from China if they are the lowest price? Everyone should run out and purchase autos manufactured outside the US, if they are the lowest price?

  2. Harl Delos Says:

    Do you think it’s a good idea to buy overpriced goods produced thousands of miles away in California, rather than competitive-priced goods produced right up the road in Windsor? Why?

    If we’re trying to be loyal to local businesses by awarding them our trade, shouldn’t they be loyal to their local neighbors by awarding us affordable prices?

    If the lowest price is the best price, JQ, yes, we should buy at the lowest price.

    Ten years ago, a Dodge Caravan was produced by a company from Auburn Hills. Five years ago, it was produced by a company from Stuttgardt, Germany. Now, it is produced by a company from New York City. It’s essentially the same vehicle, designed by exactly the same engineers, built in the same factory. If buying a Caravan makes sense at the price it is offered, we should buy it, and if it doesn’t, we shouldn’t, regardless of where the boss’s chair is located.

    If a local business is producing something worth less than what it costs to produce it, then they need to figure out what’s wrong and fix it. Encouraging them to keep an uneconomic activity going isn’t doing them any favors; it just makes the pain that much worse when they get a grasp on reality.

    If they can’t survive, the business will fail. Too bad for the business owners, but businesses shouldn’t be penalized with excess profit taxes when they make good decisions and propped up with subsidies when they are stupid. When they fail, the equipment gets auctioned, and someone else figures out how to use it to good advantage. The employees start working for someone else, too. Finding good employees is difficult; they don’t stay unemployed for long.

    Remember how, a few decades ago, Fort Wayne’s city council was so concerned about closed gas stations? It turns out that they were an asset to the community, because they were great places to start new businesses. Good locations with lots of traffic, lots of parking, and the right zoning. They weren’t gas stations – but they were small businesses, some of which grew into larger businesses.

    Most job creation occurs in small business as it grows. When large companies grow, it’s usually by buying smaller companies. They have the capital to automate operations, and instead of hiring more people, they expand output by buying more machines. That makes good economic sense, but there’s nothing like a growing number of fat paychecks to make a community fun to live in.

  3. Kevin Knuth Says:

    Leo,

    You are being very shortsighted on this issue.

    “And public officials’ first duty is to provide the taxpayer with the best value for the money possible”

    Define “value”. How about keeping ALL of those dollars in our community where they are re-spent an average of 7 times before leaving.

    OR….save some money upfront and NEVER see the economic benefit again.

  4. Steve T. Says:

    “Establish an index in which vendors could register and be notified of city contracts coming up”

    This simple process should already be in place; I’m surprised at the implication that there is no such subscription list for interested vendors to receive letters of notification regarding large capital purchases. This line item of the proposed ordinance is neither difficult nor expensive to do, and well worth it (if I, as a former IT proposal manager, may say so).

    The implied absence of a procedure to issue even the most informal RFPs to a well-maintained subscription list of demonstrably eager and competitive vendors begs the question of how the city can sensibly evaluate the proposals they DO receive when they shop for services as critical as a new IT system.

    We haven’t been given nearly enough detail about the current situation to judge in any informed way what the current criteria are and whether improvements, or reforms, to this or any sizeable purchasing process are called for.

    I would simply say that I certainly hope no one associated with city government is trying to maintain that it is appropriate to permit partisans to award contracts as privileges of office behind closed doors. That kind of business as usual would be just as unsupportable as awarding contracts to less than capable local bidders for protectionist reasons.

  5. Harl Delos Says:

    Steve, there IS already a subscription available that notifies interested vendors of large capital purchases by government; in Allen County, you call Fort Wayne Newspapers and tell them you whether you want the morning or the afternoon version of the list.

    The list is printed in agate type in most newspaper, possibly in diamond or pearl in some, and it’s usually marked “legal notices.

    I always glance at the front page, and read the Letters column first, and then search for the legals. That’s where the real news is hidden. Some of the legals are fairly boring – the annual report of the Such-And-So Foundation is available for reading at the offices of Dewey, Cheatham, & Howe, or a school board wants to buy a school bus. School boards are constantly buying school busses.

    You’d be surprised, for instance, of how many people in a city so small and so conservative as Fort Wayne run notices that they’ve switched from a male name to a female name.

    If reporters and editors were to read the legal notices every day, it’d really improve the quality of the local news reportage. There’s a lot of really interesting news, hidden there in plain sight, and nobody follows up on it.


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