Interesting Look at How Federal Investments Drove Job Growth in Charlotte

(Updated Below)

For anyone interested in job creation and job training—and the debate over the federal role in both—this story on a new Siemens turbine plant in Charlotte in yesterday’s Washington Post is probably going to be more interesting than anything you’ll read coming out of either of the political conventions:

Ask Siemens executives why they placed their bet on Charlotte and they talk about public investments such as the state-funded rail spur that runs through their facility and the city’s international airport, which recently added a fourth runway using $132 million in federal funds.

They talk about the Export-Import Bank, an independent federal agency that in January approved a $638 million loan to finance the sale of turbines to Saudi Arabia, helping Siemens beat bids from companies in Germany, South Korea and Japan.And they talk about the quality of the workforce in Charlotte, where local leaders are retooling the public education system to churn out the engineers and skilled technicians needed to operate one of the most efficient gas-turbine plants in the world.

My only quibble with this piece: I don’t understand why the austerity budgets “favored by the GOP” are set aside as if they are somehow separate from Romney’s position.

Romney’s plan for growth centers on slashing government spending while cutting tax rates sharply for everyone. Romney claims his approach would create 12 million jobs over the next four years, a conclusion that relies heavily on research by Alan Auerbach, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley.

Auerbach, who has studied the economic effects of tax cuts, said lower taxes on savings and investment do cause people to plow more money into new investments, which “should lead to faster economic growth.” But “how much, how fast” is harder to say, Auerbach said. And that approach is, in any case, less likely to be effective in a sluggish economy, he said, when businesses are holding back on new investments not because they do not have the cash but because they are “looking first at whether they can sell stuff.”

“If the question is what would [Obama and Romney] do right now to spur economic activity,” Auerbach said, “I’m not sure either platform is particularly well designed for that.”

Meanwhile, the austerity budgets favored by the GOP would cut government spending in the very areas that do seem to matter. (my emphasis) In his most recent budget, Romney’s vice-presidential running mate, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), proposed spending 25 percent less on transportation over the next decade than Obama and 31 percent less on education and training.

As part of their campaign to shrink the size of government, House Republicans also tried to kill the Export-Import Bank, which encourages exports by financing the foreign purchase of U.S. goods and services, turning a profit for taxpayers. Spiegel said the bank was a critical factor in Siemens’s decision to build turbines for export in the United States. 

Romney has endorsed the Ryan budget cited here. It’s not as if Romney has one approach and House Republicans have another one that is on some kind of separate track (“meanwhile”). Whatever the merits are of Romney’s proposal to cut tax rates in order to spur growth, by endorsing that budget, he has completely embraced the federal infrastructure and education spending cuts proposed by Ryan and his party. Those spending cuts are just as much a part of his approach as his tax rate cut proposal. And if those cuts “do seem to matter,” then the differences between the two candidate’s approaches are perhaps more significant than this article suggests.

UPDATE 9/5/12 7:22pm: Added the last sentence and edited the whole piece slightly for clarity and emphasis.