Big business has made headlines in recent years for playing a role in solving community, national and global problems. Sometimes the corporations’ role is for social change. Sometimes, it is for humanitarian assistance. And, sometimes, it is to fill in the gaps where the government has fallen short.
There have been many instances of corporate involvement in all of these aspects over the last few years. 2 have recently caught my eye that are a bit out of the ordinary. The first, the Seattle City Council passed an ordinance levying a tax on large businesses in the amount of $275 per full time worker per year. The tax would be used to combat Seattle’s growing homeless problem. After pressure from 2 of Seattle’s largest employers, Amazon and Starbucks, as well of most of the Seattle business community, the Council repealed the tax just 1 month later. The opposition was to the “tax on jobs”. No one argued against the need to solve the homeless problem. Amazon and other companies shared concern about the problem and have contributed to programs on a charitable basis. Whether forced contribution to government programs to the effort is the answer was not the issue.
The other instance that caught my eye is Domino’s recent initiative to repair America’s infrastructure. The pizza chain announced last week that it would partner with American towns and cities to fix potholes. Initially, Domino’s has partnered with Bartonville, Texas, Milford, Delaware, Athens, Georgia and Burbank, California. Paved over potholes are then painted with the Domino’s logo and catch phrase, “Oh Yes We Did”. Is Domino’s solving a need that local governments can’t fund?
These are 2 new and unique approaches to long term corporate involvement in community issues. Historically, even recently, corporate involvement has been less direct, even when requested. It may have been in the form of influence. Calls for consumers for boycotts of companies that under pay employees, harm the environment or take unpopular stands politically have been going on for decades. Corporate boycotts could force companies to change policy or even pressure government officials by way of campaign donations or other methods. The corporate boycott works today as we have seen gun control advocates call for boycotts of advertisers of Fox News shows.
Along this same line of thought, corporations took a big stand to change policy following the Parkland shooting earlier this year when Dicks Sporting Goods stopped selling fire arms and Walmart changed its policies regarding fire arms and ammunition sales. These companies hope to send a message to customers and elected officials that new laws and regulations are necessary.
Robert Iger CEO of Disney and Elon Musk CEO of Tesla both resigned from presidential advisory commissions following President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, bringing the weight of their companies behind their objections to the new US climate policy. Could this corporate pressure have an effect on the policy? So far, it hasn’t. But, it could in the long term.
In Fort Lauderdale, about 25 years ago, Wayne Huizenga, then the owner and CEO of Blockbuster Video, recognized the city’s own homeless problem which the city had failed to combat. He organized the business community in Broward County to raise money to fund a homeless shelter in partnership with the County. This was the model of corporate involvement. It was charitable giving. Gather your friends, raise money and when possible, involve local government.
Things have changed. Maybe Seattle’s effort to tax business was not the best approach. But the target was correct. Corporations will get involved to help solve problems, clearly if there is something in return to them. Profit is one thing, publicity is another. Being a good corporate citizen is on the list, but that is likely far down the list. Corporate resources, financial and otherwise, far exceed governmental resources. For most necessary projects, government leaders should look to form Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) with local business to solve the problems the community faces. PPPs are successful in real estate developments and economic development and could be beneficial in this realm as well.
As for Domino’s and the pothole problem? Is it publicity stunt? Perhaps. But it is solving a problem in 4 cities. Maybe, down the road, more cities will be involved. This could be the 1st PPPPP (Public Private Pizza Pothole Partnership) ever seen!