The mayors — Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, Shirley Franklin of Atlanta and Phil Gordon of Phoenix — made their request [for support via the bailout] in a letter to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. . .The three mayors proposed providing loans to help cities pay pension costs. They also want $50 billion in loans for investment in infrastructure, and additional one-year loans to cities unable to borrow cash because of the tight credit markets.
Much has been said about the Detroit bailout, both for and against. So, assume that the Federal Government does provide secured loans to the tune of $25 billion to the Big Three (despite the fact that they are already deeply in debt, have an almost negative book value, and yet are planning to pay up to $30 million in bonuses next year to an elite group of stellar executives in order to retain them; a few of the new automotive startups in Afghanistan are in a position to lure away the Detroit talent, apparently).
Well, what happens next? The answer, if you are a crafty politician or have a megaphone of some sort to advance your position, is to lobby the Federal government to bail out your city, industry, or you, personally. Make the case that your endeavor is critical to the national, regional, or even local economy, it’s too big to fail, and request funds to become solvent and start producing again. Over the next few days, I will nominate some of my picks for people, places and things that are in rough enough shape to be worthy of some Federal help, just like our dear friends in Detroit. Let’s start with an extinct manufacturing sector in my old home town of Waterbury, Connecticut.
The Waterbury Connecticut Brass Industry is in dire need of a bailout, since it has been defunct for over three decades. Did you see that Ken Burns documentary on World War II? If you did, you would know that Waterbury Connecticut (pop 106,000) was at one time the brass capital of the world. Nowadays, not so much. Corporations like Anaconda and Chase Brass closed their doors in the 1970s, and other companies went bankrupt or followed suit. Over 10,000 manufacturing jobs were lost, and the area has never truly recovered.
Property taxes remain high, and the state even had to step in several years ago to provide loans and establish an oversight board to keep the city solvent. Besides the loss of countless jobs, the shell casings and other munitions produced here were critical to the United States’ efforts during the Second World War. Maintaining industrial capacity to mobilize the nation in a time of war is one of the lamest arguments for saving General Motors right now, right? Well, what good is a tank made in Detroit if you don’t have any rounds to shoot out of it? And speaking of the WWII, many of that war’s commanders, sergeants, and soldiers wore a Timex watch made in Waterbury to synchronize their operations (instead of the Finnish-made Suuntos many soldiers swear by now).
Sure, the city has had its share of corrupt elected officials who contributed to the city running itself into the ground (and even hired one of them back after serving time in prison), but the loss of the brass industry is truly what led to the city’s downfall. If the feds are going to spend $25 billion dollars to bail out Midwest auto manufacturing, surely they can spare $1-3 billion to help Waterbury and the surrounding area recover from the three decades of malaise it has suffered through since the last brass factory moved on.
A loan of this magnitude could be used to refurbish some of these old abandoned factories and attract new businesses to the area.
The great tourist attraction Holy Land USA could be restored to its original glory, too. During its heyday in the 1960s, over 40,000 tourists a year visited Holy land. There’s more people now than there were in the 1960s, surely some of them would love to visit Waterbury, Connecticut. The iconic, neon-lit cross of Holy Land is practically a symbol of the city, and yet almost no living person has ever been there. It could be a great attraction with a little federal money to redevelop it. I visited that place when I was five years old with my grandmother though, and I’ll never go back, even if it reopens. I still have nightmares about Holy Land, and if I ever get around to writing a novel, it will feature some kind of ritualistic murder scene that takes place there!
Yes, it is somewhat doubtful that the big brass factories will ever reopen their doors in Waterbury (they turned one of them into a shopping mall, after all!). Re-opening Holy Land is a pipe dream, too. And sure, a sizable amount of any bailout money will probably end up in some Waterbury politician’s refrigerator, or get used to buy a summer home on nearby Bantam Lake, but so what? Senators Dodd and Lieberman, if the Senate thinks bailout magic will work to save the Big Three in Detroit, then certainly you could persuade them that Waterbury is too big to fail as well.
And people of Waterbury, call former Governor Rowland, the current Waterbury economic Czar, and tell him the same thing. Waterbury rules!