Leader Blues

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

EDITORIALS>>Elvis country

Another automotive suitor, the relentlessly fickle Toyota Motor Corp., has spurned Arkansas and its generous dowry of tax breaks, subsidies and cheap labor. Two years ago, Toyota led Arkansas up to the altar and then fled to Toronto, Canada, where it established its seventh North American assembly plant. Yesterday, it announced that its eighth would be not at Marion, Ark., the perennial site that everyone knew would finally be the bride, but Tupelo, Miss. Two thousand people in northeastern Mississippi will get the jobs. Tupelo, Miss.! It had not even been in the running. The sites had been narrowed to Marion and a town in western Tennessee. Toyota and the experts had all praised the Arkansas site, on land as flat as a patio, where east-west and north-south Interstates crossed and on the fringes of the big Memphis labor market.

Everyone will now ask: What happened? What does Tupelo have that east Arkansas doesn’t? We have cheap labor, weak unions, low taxes, eager and honest workers, and Arkansas voters amended the Constitution two years ago so that we can sink our state government deeply into debt to pay for whatever additional infrastructure a giant automaker might want. Toyota is now the world’s largest automaker, but we would have paid for the training. And Gov. Beebe is getting a $50 million tax fund to close a deal with a restive manufacturer.

Sure, Tupelo is not far away from another Toyota plant, an engine factory at Huntsville, Ala., but that offers only marginal advantages. We have a hunch about what happened. The Japanese are supposed to value cultural accoutrements. Tupelo is famous in some quarters as one of the smallest cities (34,000) in the country with its own symphony orchestra, and it has a big museum of antique automobiles, which is worth going to see. But that is not it either.

Tupelo is the birthplace of Elvis. And that isn’t all. Elton John and Bernie Taupin wrote a song about Tupelo called “Porch Swing in Tupelo.” Everyone knows Van Morrison’s song “Tupelo Honey.” John Lee Hooker recorded a blues song about a fictional flood titled “Tupelo,” although the town has never been flooded. Jerry Reed, who is famous for his role in “Smokey and the Bandits,” recorded a song called “Tupelo Mississippi Flash.” Mark Knopfler’s album “Shangri-La” features a song called “Back to Tupelo.” Finally, there’s the closing stanza of EmmyLou Harris’ song “Boy from Tupelo”:

“You don’t love me, this I know/
Don’t need a Bible to tell me so/
It’s a shame and it’s a sin/
Everything I coulda been to you/
Your last chance Texaco,/
Your sweetheart of the rodeo,/
A Juliet to your Romeo,/
The border you cross into Mexico/
I’ll never understand why or how/
Oh, but baby it’s too late now/
Just ask the boy from Tupelo/
He’s the king and he oughta know.”
In Tokyo, they have never heard a song about Marion. If we’re going to land jobs, we’ve got to get to work. —Ernie Dumas