This town gives Trump a second look after the Carrier deal

by Salino Zito                        The New York Post



INDIANAPOLIS — Steeling himself against the cold outside the Carrier air-conditioning plant on Thursday, Brian Dyson is ecstatic.

“Look, when Trump came here and said he was going to save jobs, I saw that as just another promise from a politician. Now I realize he is not a politician but a salesman and a deal-maker,” he said, pausing then adding, “And I kind of like it.”


 INDIANAPOLIS — Steeling himself against the cold outside the Carrier air-conditioning plant on Thursday, Brian Dyson is ecstatic.

“Look, when Trump came here and said he was going to save jobs, I saw that as just another promise from a politician. Now I realize he is not a politician but a salesman and a deal-maker,” he said, pausing then adding, “And I kind of like it.”

Last week, President-elect Donald Trump stunned the nation when Carrier tweeted that they had worked out a deal with his team to save at least 1,000 of the 1,400 jobs that were set to be sent to Monterrey, Mexico next year.

When a victorious Trump, in his trademark red tie and blue suit, visited Carrier’s Indianapolis factory on Thursday, he was given a standing ovation by several hundred employees in the company auditorium.

Trump’s economic focus throughout the Great Lakes Rust Belt states of Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania during the campaign was sweet music to the people living there. Despite critics wondering why he was wasting precious time and resources trying to win over voters who haven’t voted Republican as a bloc in a presidential election in a generation, he kept stubbornly plodding on.

And he didn’t just hold rallies in convention centers. He trudged out to thriving or struggling manufacturing facilities throughout the Midwest, drawing large crowds.

‘[Trump] deserves credit for coming to places like here, the middle of nowhere that politicians only talk about, not talk to.’

Trump’s campaign was underscored by powerful messaging that targeted working-class voters, said Bruce Haynes, a Republican media consultant at Purple Strategies in Washington, DC. “Making America Great Again was, to their ear, about restoring respect and validity to their lives, communities and workplaces,” he said.

Haynes said Carrier was perhaps the most potent symbol of what these voters believe: that the powerful in America manipulate the working class for their personal gain. “In striking a deal to keep these jobs in the US, Trump delivers on the fundamental underpinning of his campaign; that he, one of the powerful, sees you, hears you and will deliver for you, putting your interests on the level or even above those of the powerful,” he said.

To kill Carrier’s plan, Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence negotiated with the state of Indiana, which agreed to offer the company $7 million in tax incentives to stay. But the real catalyst was the president-elect’s threat to impose a tariff on Carrier imports to the US. What’s more, Carrier’s parent company United Technologies gets about 10 percent of its revenue from sales to the Pentagon, a deal Trump said he would eliminate as president.

Some business experts have criticized Trump’s strategy, saying overincentivizing companies to stay in the US could create a false economy and might even encourage businesses to threaten to offshore their operations unless they’re offered similar perks to stay. But for the American workers on the receiving end of a globalized market place, that’s a risk worth taking.

Trump first visited Indianapolis in April of this year during the final days of the Republican primary contest, and his promise to keep Carrier in Indiana endeared him instantly to GOP primary voters.

He reinforced that vow with a visit just three days before he picked Indiana Gov. Pence as his running mate.

Trump’s pledge was dismissed by skeptics like Chuck Jones, the president of the local steelworkers union at the plant. Jones admitted he criticized Trump during the campaign for making improbable assurances — and was shocked when he got it done.

“He got involved, and the man did what he promised he would do.”

Jones was not alone in his skepticism of Trump. The press questioned his strategy and centered on the improbability of him winning any Rust Belt state, which overshadowed and missed the impact of his economic message. The end result was an Electoral College romp in states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan — areas where no pollster predicted he could prevail.

Trump’s campaign rhetoric about the impact of bad trade deals on communities had clearly registered. The Mexican workers set to replace the American Carrier employees would have earned a base wage of $3 an hour, an amount that is $23 an hour less than some of the top-paid employees in Indianapolis.

Trump speaks with a worker while touring the Carrier factory in Indianapolis.Photo: Reuters

You can understand why Carrier would make the move; it saves their bottom line nearly $70 million a year. But, if Carrier had moved, the likelihood of its workers finding similar high-paying jobs in Indianapolis would have been doubtful. Critics of displaced workers chide them to move, but the prospect of leaving a community they have been tied to for generations holds little appeal for many Midwesterners.

And yet, some Carrier workers have already tried to plan for a future beyond the company. Gabrielle Steel and Janelle McMahon have worked at the manufacturing plant for half their lives, but after a Carrier executive gathered all of the employees into the plant in February and relayed the company’s decision to close the facility and move production to Mexico, they decided to take action.

“It was a devastating moment: We are all just standing there together. We had no idea it was coming, and then it’s just dropped on us like we are these invisible people whose lives and dedication to service just didn’t matter,” said McMahon.

McMahon, 40, is now in nursing school, and Steele, 42, is considering going to school for a technology career.

‘For once it’s nice to know someone has your back, and I respect that.’

“There is a life span for these kinds of jobs, and we are seeing them grasping for their last breaths. Time to think of the future,” said McMahon. For her, the impact would have been doubly devastating to her household. “My husband works here as well.” Both women said repeatedly they are “so thankful” that Trump was able to extend their jobs, and both said they were highly skeptical when he pledged he would do so during the campaign.

“Look, I am incredibly grateful I will still have a job,” said McMahon. “For once it’s nice to know someone has your back, and I respect that. But honestly I cannot deal with constant uncertainty and instability in my life. There are so many unknowns with this job going forward — like will we lose benefits or take a wage cut or how long is Carrier committed to staying here?”

The loss of a company like Carrier doesn’t just affect its workers. It affects an entire community. Experts predicted the economic impact of Carrier leaving the west side of Indianapolis would have cost the state nearly $100 million a year in ancillary commerce.

Places like the Paragon Restaurant a few blocks up the road, or the gas-station convenience store on the way to the plant would lose their daily business from the Carrier workers, but also schools, public transportation, supermarkets and city coffers would all feel the economic drag of the wage losses.

“A place like Carrier leaves, and a domino effect happens not just to businesses but also social services like police and fire protection because our funding is dependent on a robust tax base,” said Gene Kozen, the local fire chief who was wearing his dress uniform including his cap for the Trump event.

Carrier employees, Gabrielle Steel (left) and Janelle McMahon.Photo: Justin Merriman

“Big job losses like the one set to happen here are sometimes the linchpin that unravels an entire community, as low wages force foreclosures, which then increases crime as neighborhoods deteriorate. It is a scene I have seen played over and over again across the Midwest as former manufacturing towns have eroded into ghost towns,” said Kozen, 52.

Carrier was part of the great early 20th century generation that built America during the industrial revolution. It was started by Willis Carrier, a young industrial engineer who had an idea while he was standing at a misty train platform in Pittsburgh in 1902. As he stared through the mist, he recognized that he could dry air by passing it through water to create fog, solving a problem that had long vexed him.

It took him a year, but he eventually found a way to control humidity — the basic building block for modern air conditioning.

His invention not only changed the way Americans live and play (movie houses used to close during the summer months because of the heat) it also positively impacted the lives of workers and improved productions at manufacturing plants across the country.

Demand for Carrier’s products hasn’t waned over the years, but demand for American factory workers has — a fact that didn’t escape Trump.

Strangely it was Trump, a billionaire from Manhattan, who understood and connected with working Americans — the “ordinary” folks — like nobody else, said Charlie Gerow, a media consultant from Harrisburg, Pa. “He instinctively understands them and feels their pain. As a result, he connected with them in magical ways even though he had little in common.”

He made the struggle of the workers at the Carrier plant an archetype of his campaign. And their struggle became the nation’s.