By STEVEN NALLEY
The Buy American Act and similar clauses in local business will be on tap at future meetings of four of Starkville’s major leaders, as announced Wednesday during the Community Roundtable Luncheon.
At the luncheon, held at Mississippi State University’s Leo W. Seal M-Club Center Wednesday, Gulf States Manufacturers executives brought the “Buy American” principle to the attention the four leaders. Greater Starkville Development Partnership President and CEO Jon Maynard said the four would continue discussion of the principle at subsequent meetings.
The Community Roundtable Luncheon brings Maynard, Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman, Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors President Marvell Howard and MSU President Mark Keenum together each quarter to talk with the public about issues that influence and connect the city, county, university and local businesses. The four also meet privately at the M-Club each month.
The federal Buy American Act, enacted in 1933, establishes a preference for American goods in government purchases and requires federal agencies to report reasons for purchases from non-domestic sources to Congress annually. Exceptions to the act include products made for use outside the U.S. and cases where the act’s application would be inconsistent with the public interest or unreasonable in cost.
Danny Coggins, general manager at Gulf States, said he has noticed more businesses and cities using “Buy American” and “Buy Local” clauses in their contracts, keeping their money circulating locally and domestically. For instance, he said he heard Gulf States could lose a project in Mobile, Ala., because not enough of Mobile’s local suppliers have gotten involved.
“That’s horrible news for us, but I sat there and smiled because there’s a community who has strong enough leaders to say, ‘We’ve got to support our local business,’” Coggins said. “What I’d like to hear from some of the leaders here is: How do you feel on the subject, and what are you going to do about it? ‘Buy American’ may be illegal in Red China, but I don’t think it is here.”
Coggins said local government bodies, decision makers and design professionals have told Gulf States on numerous occasions that the Buy American Act and Buy American or Buy Local clauses are unusable, unethical or illegal. Wiseman said state law does require a local government to accept project bids that are either of the lowest cost or deemed by the governing authority as the best bid. If the governing authority deems a bid that costs more as the best, he said, that authority must provide their reasoning to the state.
“Now, as a matter of course, what we routinely do as a city is we take into account the local economic impact of local work,” Wiseman said. “In my opinion, that’s got to be part of the analysis. That’s a perfectly legitimate reason to state that a bid is a ‘best bid,’ but it’s something that we have to take on a case-by-case basis.”
Robert A. Richard, controller for Gulf States, pressed the issue further, this time specifying the Starkville School District has told his company Buy American is illegal numerous times. Maynard said GSDP is a major proponent of buying local, with a “Shop Starkville” advertising campaign that extends beyond retail.
“Our stance on that is if we can generate more money here by ourselves, we’ll be a whole lot better off than expecting it to come from somewhere else,” Maynard said. “This group that gets together, we have not tackled this as a formal project or formal policy review. I’m going to throw that out with our group, and we’ll tackle that as a formal issue.”
Each of the leaders also gave presentations on the ways their organizations have been able to help each other. For instance, Howard talked about the new education building and new roads that will better accommodate families moving to Starkville. Wiseman said the city could not have won Blue Cross Blue Shield’s award for Healthiest Hometown in the state without OCH Regional Medical Center and MSU nutritionists.
Keenum said MSU owed its ability to attract the best and brightest students and staff, in large part, to the strength of the community and its businesses. Coach Dan Mullen’s response to reporters at SEC Media Days who questioned his decision to live in Starkville, he said, was an example of the community’s power to attract and hold onto elements that improve it.
Maynard said MSU’s Thad Cochran Research Park helps the city and county compete in industry. He said the recent expansion of II-VI (pronounced “two six”) at the research park is a key example.
“II-VI is expanding to over 100 employees, and it started off as a very small project that is growing in scope to include what’s going to be the largest silicon carbide manufacturing facility in the world,” Maynard said. “That’s going to be right here in that research park.”