Civic leaders shouldn’t defend Hanesbrands

by Jim Longworth

Last week, the Winston-Salem Journal published a guest editorial written jointly by Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce President Gayle Anderson and Flow Motors CEO Don Flow.

Actually it wasn’t so much an editorial as it was a condescending lecture to all of us misguided persons who just don’t understand what a great community servant Hanesbrands CEO Richard Noll is. We just don’t appreciate the tough decisions Richie Rich has to make in order to preserve his company. And we have no right to suggest that Noll’s $2 million gift to the arts council should be returned.

But AnderFlow’s lecture wasn’t really aimed at every misguided person in the Triad. It was mainly targeted to award-winning Journal columnist Scott Sexton, and to yours truly, the only two journalists who have consistently criticized Noll for the economic devastation he has wrought, and the insulting way in which he has tried to buy respectability.

Perhaps Noll thinks if he donates money to the arts council that it will make us forget the 14,000 people he has laid off over the past year, including over a thousand in Winston-Salem. Maybe he hopes that his recent philanthropy will make us forget that last Christmas he suspended subsidized medical benefits for Hanesbrands retirees. Or perhaps he thinks that praise from a chamber president will deflect attention from the fact that he has saddled taxpayers with the cost of training and salary compensation for the thousands of workers he laid off.

And maybe he hopes that having his name attached to a new arts complex will keep the media focused on something other than his moving 75 percent of his workforce out of America, paying slave wages to foreigners in order to increase company profits.

Richard Noll is an example of how American CEOs can take advantage of NAFTA and CAFTA, while abusing the spirit of the Federal Trade Adjustment Assistance Act, and continuing to rake in hefty salaries and bonuses ­- in his case, $8.5 million.

For Don Flow and Gayle Anderson to defend Hanesbrands calls into question their own commitment to the working class in North Carolina that drives our economy.

Certainly Hanesbrands pays a large chunk of change in dues to belong to the chamber, but that’s no reason for Anderson to ignore Noll’s misdeeds.

Flow, meanwhile, might claim that he is uniquely qualified to understand the nuances of business and economic development. After all, he helped to recruit Dell to our area. But the Dell deal was nothing more than corporate extortion. While the state of Virginia offered a mere $30 million in perks to attract Dell, North Carolina’s package cost us taxpayers 10 times more than that. And it’s a perk package that allows Dell to lay off up to 40 percent of its workforce in Forsyth and still hold on to $330 million of our money. No wonder gubernatorial candidate and former Justice Robert Orr says the Dell deal was illegal and bad for the Triad.

Flow and Anderson are part of an inner circle in the Twin City area who think that no one but them understands what our community needs. But by defending the likes of Richard Noll and Hanesbrands, they are helping to destroy a class of people that made this community great.

So why did AnderFlow go to such trouble to pen an editorial in defense of corporate greed? Perhaps because the inner circle protects the inner circle, and because what those people fear most is anyone who shines a light on the truth about wheeling and dealing in the Triad.

When you play with other people’s money and lives, it’s easy to disregard the effect your decisions have on those other people. It’s kind of like John McCain saying he understands the effects of war on the ground when all he did was drop bombs from 35,000 feet in the air. Unfortunately many Winston-Salem leaders are too detached from what regular folk need, and too high in the sky to appreciate the damage their decisions do on the ground.

Instead of criticizing the media and defending greedy CEOs, Flow and Anderson should think about how they might better serve the economic needs of citizens.

They can start by formally censuring Richard Noll for sending 14,000 jobs overseas and request that he bring those jobs back home. They can also renounce the use of industry incentives as a way of attracting new business.

Gubernatorial candidate Bev Perdue told me that if elected, she would lobby the National Governors Association to place a moratorium on all incentives. That’s because incentives do not create jobs; they merely shift jobs from one state to another.

And the city’s inner circle should stop circling the wagons every time someone points out their mistakes.

Folks like Scott Sexton, Bob Orr, Bev Perdue and myself sympathize with laid-off workers. Don Flow, Gayle Anderson and the inner circle sympathize with CEOs who do the laying off.

Until and unless that inner circle understands the difference between those two philosophies, they will keep paying tribute to corporate pirates while the rest of us keep paying for their mistakes.

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).