William C. Norris, chairman of Control Data Corp., agrees with President Reagan's notion that business has a vital role in solving the problems of poverty, urban decay, hunger and the rest, particularly in light of the administration's budget reductions.
But he believes the president is on the wrong track with his emphasis on corporate charity. "You can't do it with charitable contributions," he said. "The gap to be bridged is just too great."
So what, in Norris' opinion, should big business be doing? The Selby Bindery here provides a piece of the answer. Until 12 years ago, Control Data jobbed out nearly all of its binding, packaging and mailing. Now much of that work is done at the Selby Bindery, where 247 employees, mostly residents of a modest St. Paul neighborhood, handle 40 million pieces of paper a month.
Most of the work is done in two part-time shifts, a fact that has special appeal for mothers of school-age children. One shift runs from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., making it possible for the mothers to get their children off to school, be at home when they return and still earn a decent wage. At Selby Bindery, as at similar operations in Baltimore and Toledo, CDC is fighting poverty by providing the poor what they need most: jobs.
Another piece of the Norris approach is the Business and Technology Center, a novel approach to small-business assistance. The center, the first of five such undertakings either planned or in operation, not only provides expert advice but also on-site office and laboratory space, computer access, a business library, conference rooms, reception and telephone service, free banking and tax information and even loans, through CDC's commercial credit division. There is even a basement shop where skilled technicians will fabricate working models of an amateur inventor's latest brainstorm.
By sharing facilities, the fledgling businesses are able to cut costs during the critical early years, until they are ready to cut the cord and move out on their own. The Business and Technology Center here has 59 wholly contained small businesses in this single modern complex.
Here and elsewhere, Control Data is finding ways to put low-income residents to work, either for the giant corporation or in their own businesses. In the latter case, CDC provides the up- front money and the technology in exchange for a piece of the business--usually 15 or 20 percent.
And in every case, charity is no consideration. Norris's motivation is the traditional one: "We make money out of it."
The 70-year-old Norris, who founded Control Data 25 years ago with only five employees, now oversees a business empire with 60,000 employees. He is, naturally, still interested in making money. His discovery, which he believes may be the economic and social salvation of the country, is that there is money to be made in creating jobs for people who desperately need them.
He ticks off the catalog of social problems-- "the near-disastrous decay of our inner cities and our poverty-stricken rural areas, shamefully high levels of disadvantaged-youth unemployment, an unresponsive educational system, antiquated, overcrowded human warehouses called prisons" --and insists that big business, in cooperation with the government and local communities, can do something about virtually all of them.
"We have enormous resources in this country," he says, "but they are fragmented. The president talks about community partnerships, and that's what I'm talking about." But not in terms of corporate charity, which addresses symptoms, not causes. "If we provide people with jobs, some of the other problems will go away. The only way to make headway is to focus on employment."
He says his own prejudice is in favor of focusing on young people--which Control Data does in a number of education, training and job- preparation programs, mostly based on CDC's computer-assisted learning system, PLATO.
"Older people have somehow learned to cope. It's the young people who are really at sea. You might say I'm talking about a priority within a priority. The reason we are focusing on small- business development, including minority- owned businesses, is that is where most of the new jobs come from.
"If we can help people go into business, and maybe make a product we can market for them, it's a damn good deal for everybody."