Roy Exum: Give Littlefield A Plaque

Tuesday, June 4, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

I’ve always been a big believer in the extended family. I believe you go through life a lot easier if you hold hands with your buddies when you are crossing a busy street. They’ll take care of you. Your friends – those you trust – are all that matters when it comes to sticking together and mastering life’s pitfalls. You see, the way it works is that they depend on you, too

So put me down as one who winced when a story appeared in the Times Free Press the other day chastising former city mayor Ron Littlefield for buying office supplies from a Chattanooga company rather than some carpet-bagger in Louisville, Ky. The story alleged that the taxpayers paid about $10 more for a printing cartridge as a result, or about $20,000 more for all of 2012 had Littlefield honored the lowest bidder.

If I were king, I would ask the City Council and the County Commission to immediately grant County Mayor Jim Coppinger and City Mayor Andy Berke a “common sense” clause in any bidding process because if we don’t take care of local companies, and local people, we are doing a greater disservice to the taxpayers than any savings will ever equal.

The company that Littlefield wisely bought ink cartridges from is called COS. That really means “Chattanooga Office Supply” with an accent on the “Chattanooga.” COS pays city and county taxes. Its employees live among us and they buy food in our grocery stores, send their children to local schools, support local churches and contribute to our economy every single day. The Louisville company counts their money in far-away Kentucky at no benefit whatsoever to the greater good of “us.”

Taxpayer money has been and should always be carefully stewarded, but Mayors Coppinger and Berke should also be given free rein to steward our community as well. Chattanooga is big enough to offer multiple bids on ink cartridges, and just about anything else, without some slicks from Louisville, Atlanta, or Knoxville coming amongst us to undercut our rich heritage of “buying local.”

Back in the day one of my responsibilities at our family newspaper was to handle our fleet of vehicles. The way we did it back then, we had about 100 cars and trucks and “fleet representives” of out-of-town dealers were always coming by to “save us money.” I was taught early on by my grandfather “the worst thing you will ever hear in business is when somebody ‘wants to save you money.’ What that really means is he wants to take your money.”

I would always be kind and polite to out-of-town solicitors – they were just trying to do their job – so I’d buy them a cold Coca-Cola and then ask, “How much advertising do you plan to do with us?” Local car dealers would spent thousands of dollars advertising with us and the out-of-town visitor never finished his Coke before the conversation was over.

But, wait, there is more. If I had a problem with a truck I bought locally, I could handle it in a phone call but do you think for a second that some out-of-town guy is going to care after he cashes your check? One of life’s unwritten rules is you honor your friends, your friend’s children and their children’s children. I believe business ought to be the same way.

I know Skip Ireland, who runs Chattanooga Office Supply, and he is one of “us.” Ron Littlefield should get a star – not a scar – for understanding the economic benefits and “the ripple effect” that is created when you buy local, especially in the government sector. Do you have any idea how many philanthropic events I’ve been to down through the years where I’ve seen Skip Ireland and his family? The “ripple effect” is huge, I’m telling you.

I believe every automobile that is bought by city and county government should now be a Volkswagen Passat. Sure, we can get a comparable vehicle at a savings but now Volkswagen is us. I feel the same way about Blue Cross-Blue Shield, Unum, Little Debby, Chattem products and so many other local companies where I have a choice.

Both the city and county use trucks. Nothing irks me quite as badly when we use taxpayer money to buy one from an out-of-town dealer instead of a dealer who pays taxes in Chattanooga. I don’t believe you can save enough money on the lowest bid to offset what really happens when we ignore “us” in favor of shipping ink cartridges from Louisville, Ky. In an emergency, Skip Ireland can have a box to you in 30 minutes but the Louisville slick “thinks” it may be next Tuesday.

There is something to be learned from “penny wise – pound foolish.” I appreciate the fact Ron Littlefield recognized that.

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