No news is good news (or, the jobs glass is mostly empty)
By Michael Lewis
Expand the "no good deed goes unpunished" adage to "no good news goes untarnished."
It happened again last week when a wish we'd been writing about since September was fulfilled: Miami-Dade County got a pledge of 366 new jobs, courtesy of a Visa Inc. expansion.
In my book, local expansion of a global brand with so many added jobs and a $3.9 million investment in construction and equipment is great news any time.
In today's economy, it's just plain spectacular.
We held our front page open Tuesday night waiting to report the story and couldn't: though the Beacon Council had tipped us it was imminent, Visa held its announcement until the next day.
We were chagrined not to spotlight it on the front page Wednesday morning, certain that the Miami Herald would at its first opportunity.
Well, we didn't get the story. It came too late.
And the Herald didn't feature the story Thursday. It used a thin strip at the bottom of its business page, not page 1, preferring to focus the business report on an accountant's fraud — titillating, but far from the impact of 366 new jobs.
The Herald slighted the jobs as "a bit of positive news," faint praise indeed.
The Daily Business Review did more: its report managed to turn our best job news in many months into a downer.
After announcing the jobs, the Review focused on a Florida International University labor researcher who decried that government funds lured the jobs, said the $35,000 average pay was too small to bother with, then added that since they probably won't be union jobs "it is not much of a cause for celebration."
If he were one of a dozen commentators on the bonanza you'd say he was a dissenter. But his was the only outside voice.
I suppose we could also find someone to knock Santa Claus. But why try so hard to belittle the advent of what we've been praying for?
It's not like jobs at $35,000 plus $12,000 annual benefits are poor, though they're slightly below what was the county's average salary before the recession bore down.
I can personally think of a lot worse than taking 366 of Miami-Dade's 137,500 unemployed and giving them dignified work and good benefits with a corporation like Visa.
As for government's role, the county is on the hook for exactly $119,740 spread over five years as incentives to Visa — and then only if all 366 jobs and $3.9 million in capital investment go as planned. The state is committing $380,640.
That half-million-dollar public investment will lure $12.8 million in added Visa payroll here every year, or more than 25 times the one-time incentive returned to us each year. I guarantee the federal stimulus program could never envision such efficient use of job-creation funds.
Remember, too, that the county is spending $3 billion — not million, but billion — for a Florida Marlins stadium that creates about 500 construction jobs that vanish in two years when work ends.
Meanwhile, we get 366 jobs for five years guaranteed for $500,000 — light years apart.
We should be applauding the Beacon Council, our economic development partnership, for pushing to get Visa to expand in its Latin America and Caribbean Headquarters in the Blue Lagoon area despite a larger competitive lure, $885,218, from Virginia.
We should even praise our county commission, which Oct. 8 asked the state to waive a rule barring incentives unless jobs average above $45,000 — and thank the state for complying.
As Robert Cruz, chief county economist, told the commission that day, "for the type of industry this product is in, $35,000 annual wage is the average in Miami-Dade County," with $12,000 in benefits to boot.
It's true we could use many times 366 jobs to whittle down our jobless rolls, but the only way is a few jobs at a time. Nobody is going to send in jobs in chunks of 30,000 or 50,000.
In fact, forget thousands: Miami-Dade's small and mid-sized business engine usually adds jobs at most three or five at a time. A single jump this big is a gold-plated rarity, not easily replicated.
The fact that county jobless rolls fell exactly 12,000 from October to January is testament to small businesses' recuperative power, chipping away at unemployment in dribs and drabs.
That's why the pooh-poohing of Visa's growth is perplexing.
We're all frustrated the economy can't turn on a dime and rebound in a week to what we used to think was normal. But it can't, and it won't.
In this case, the job reward we're getting from Visa, aided and abetted by government and the Beacon Council, should go both unpunished and untarnished.
Hail — and let's do it again, and again, and again.