Romney, the early front-runner for the Republican nomination, and the factory’s owner see government as the problem — stunting growth at every turn with stringent environmental and labor regulations, a new health-care law, and trade policies that they say disadvantage U.S. companies.
Yet it’s been the government — and Obama’s policies in particular — that has helped propel Screen Machine’s growth at its sprawling new headquarters here, even during the recession. The company, which builds heavy-duty crushing and screening machines used in construction, mining and recycling, received four stimulus awards totaling $218,607. It is also benefiting from a 10-year deal with local and state governments to not pay taxes on its property, equipment or inventory, according to public records.
And Screen Machine, which is expanding its global sales, recently won a federal contract to deliver its machines to Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan. That base doubled in size to accommodate Obama’s troop surge.
This family-owned factory, which employs between 50 and 100 nonunion workers in the Columbus suburbs, and others like it are at the heart of a tug of war between the two political parties as each tries to show that its policies would help American manufacturers and small businesses. But the stories of factories like Screen Machine’s are not black and white, making their use as campaign backdrops fraught with peril.
In the debt debate, when Republicans talk about protecting small-business job creators, they’re talking about people like Steve Cohen. His family founded Screen Machine in 1966 and has expanded the company overseas to Russia, China, the Middle East and Africa. This week, Cohen said, the company received its first orders from Australia.
A call to end ‘uncertainty’
Romney, after climbing a stage on the steamy factory floor to the strains of Ohio State University’s football song “Hang on Sloopy,” hailed Screen Machine as an “extraordinary manufacturing facility.” In a 20-minute speech to more than 200 factory workers, supporters and community leaders, Romney attacked Obama for his stewardship of the “extraordinarily uneven” economic recovery.
Repeating many of the lines he has practiced on the stump, Romney criticized the president’s health-care law, his financial regulations and his environmental policies as creating an atmosphere of uncertainty that is stifling growth at Screen Machine and other companies.
“Uncertainty is the enemy of investment and growth,” he said. “What are the friends of investment and growth?”