Mike Kueber's Blog

October 5, 2012

Putting Warroad, MN on the map

President Obama concluded his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention by reiterating his belief Americans should view economic success not only as individual achievement, but also as something that is achieved as a community.  Thus, the community, through government taxes, is entitled to share in that success.  As is common with this type of speech (best exemplified by Ronald Reagan’s State of the Union addresses), President Obama provided several examples of what he has since titled “economic patriotism.”  One of the examples was from my neck of the woods:

  • We, the people — (cheers) — recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which asks only, what’s in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense. (Cheers, applause.)  As citizens, we understand that America is not about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us, together — (cheers, applause) — through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government. That’s what we believe.  So you see, the election four years ago wasn’t about me. It was about you. (Cheers, applause.) My fellow citizens — you were the change. (Cheers, applause.)”
  • “I’m hopeful because of you….  The family business in Warroad, Minnesota, that didn’t lay off a single one of their 4,000 employees when the recession hit — (cheers, applause) — even when their competitors shut down dozens of plants, even when it meant the owner gave up some perks and some pay because they understood that their biggest asset was the community and the workers who had helped build that business — they give me hope. (Cheers, applause.)”

I have a high school classmate who moved to Warroad to work for a snowmobile manufacturer – Polaris – and I assumed that President Obama in his speech was referring to Polaris.  Because of that local connection, I decided to read the back story about economic patriotism in Minnesota.  You can imagine my surprise to learn that small-town Warroad, with about 1,700 residents, actually had two companies with more employees than Warroad has residents – Polaris, a publically-owned company, and Marvin Windows and Doors, a privately-owned company – and President’s reference was to Marvin Windows and Doors.

The economic patriotism of Marvin Windows and Doors was brought to our nation’s attention by a New York Times profile about a year ago.   According to the Time profile, Marvin W&D is a family-owned company that has about 2,000 employees in Warroad.  Unlike its competitors during the recent financial downturn, Marvin R&D refused to lay off employees or cut health-insurance benefits, although it did reduce hours to 32, cut salaries by 5% employees’ salaries, and eliminated fringe benefits like tuition reimbursement, a 401k match, and profit-sharing. 

Because Marvin W&D is privately owned, I don’t think there is anything wrong with the company’s owners deciding to run the company like a family and then keeping their family on its payroll even though there is not enough work for them.  (The article failed to say what the nonessential employees are doing.)  But if it were a publically-owned company, like Pella, I believe stockholders would have a legitimate beef for Marvin supplanting the role of government in providing unemployment benefits.

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