Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has been busy fending off accusations from President Barack Obama and other Democrats that his private business dealings while running the private equity firm Bain Capital helped send American jobs overseas.
But one Bain-funded company that has been singled out as a “pioneer” of outsourcing has actually brought 500 jobs to Watertown, a figure that shows no signs of abating — and no signs of being outsourced, either.
Stream Global Services, a Minnesota-based company that has had an outpost on Arsenal Street for almost 10 years, has helped anchor the city's efforts at revitalizing its downtown and brought much-needed jobs, local officials said.
About 500 people field technical support calls through contracts with larger tech companies at its Arsenal Street location. Symbolizing the rise of new industry from the ashes of generations past, Stream set up shop at the last Woolworth department store in the nation.
“I thought that was one of the best things to happen to the city in recent decades,” said Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham. “I'm not into the class warfare and the talking points between Obama and Romney. I just look at it through the fact that they've set up here.”
On television sets far from Watertown, Democrats are attempting to make companies like Stream a liability for Mr. Romney.
The company was named in a Washington Post article describing companies that shipped jobs overseas, an article that then was cited in attack ads assailing Mr. Romney's private business record.
Stream declined to comment on the political attacks. A spokesman said in a statement that the company employs about 500 and is seeking to fill 75 more positions. The company also has call centers in Europe and Asia.
The Romney campaign, meanwhile, emailed a statement from former Stream International President Scott Murray, who defended the company and said it hasn't forgotten its American roots.
“By the time Romney left Bain, Stream's call centers had grown from just a few hundred people in Massachusetts to approximately 5,000 employees across the United States,” Mr. Murray said. “Stream was not 'shipping jobs overseas,' but creating thousands of jobs for American workers in places like Massachusetts, Oregon, Tennessee and Texas.”
The company's history shows Mr. Romney probably was not involved in the decision to bring Stream to Watertown.
Stream started to discuss the idea of opening a call center in Watertown in early 2001.
Mr. Romney had left Bain Capital to run the Salt Lake City Olympics in 1998 — though reports indicate Mr. Romney was still the CEO of the company until 2001. Mr. Romney has said in interviews that he was not involved in Bain decisions after 1998. Bain had owned a stake in the company and had a hand in guiding it since 1993, according to the Washington Post.
Bain sold its stake in 2001, according to the Washington Post. Local officials inked the deal to bring Stream Global Services to Watertown in August 2002. They've been pleased with Stream's presence ever since.
“Let the national news play with the national politics. Stream offers a tremendous amount of jobs in Jefferson County,” said Jefferson County Board of Legislators Chairwoman Carolyn D. Fitzpatrick, R-Watertown. “That makes all of us very happy. While we live a political life, I don't live the national game.”
But others weren't so ready to let Bain, and Stream, off the hook for outsourcing. Brian S. McGrath, a Lowville native who is active in Democratic Party circles, said Watertown would benefit even more by bringing all of Stream's overseas jobs back to the United States.
He noted the company has thousands of employees at call centers in India, the Philippines and China.
“Does Stream get credit for employing north country residents? Sure,” Mr. McGrath said. “Does that mean Bain gets a pass on its general corporate philosophy of preferring to send the bulk of the jobs to India, China and the Philippines? Certainly not.”
Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, has made anti-outsourcing promises a pillar of his campaign, promising to eliminate tax breaks for “companies that ship jobs overseas.”
But he said he was pleased with Stream and its growth in Watertown.
“From my perspective, I always focus on what is happening in the district,” he said. “As a result, I'm happy that Stream is in Watertown and has created jobs.”
Mr. Owens said he was unaware of the Bain connection until contacted by a reporter, but no matter his fellow party members' wariness, he'd like to see the business thrive. He toured the facility in 2011.
On the local level, Mr. Owens's race against Republican Matthew A. Doheny will take pages from the national playbook.
Like Mr. Romney, Mr. Doheny frequently cites his business record as the reason he should be elected on Nov. 6. Democrats, meanwhile, have said Mr. Romney's and Mr. Doheny's business records are exactly why they shouldn't be elected. Some of the companies in which Mr. Doheny's Deutsche Bank Securities was involved shed jobs, Democrats note.
Asked whether outsourcing was bad, Mr. Doheny said the north country has benefited from Canadian firms that have operations in the United States.
He also said he appreciates the cheap goods from all over the world available at stores such as Walmart and Target — the natural result of a globalized economy.
On the national level, against Mr. Romney, and on a personal level, against himself, the attacks are scurrilous, Mr. Doheny said.
“All Democrats can do, from the president on down, is bash our job creators,” Mr. Doheny said. “There's a fundamental disconnect from those who vilify success.”
UPDATE: Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Josh Schwerin jumped on Mr. Doheny's outsourcing statements, saying the following in an email:
“Matt Doheny spent his adult life making millions at the expense of workers. It's not surprising Doheny advocates for protecting tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas instead of protecting North Country seniors. Time and time again, Matt Doheny has shown he prioritizes Wall Street companies shipping jobs overseas over protecting the American middle class.”
I put the same question — "Is outsourcing bad?" — before Mr. Owens. Here was his answer:
"If it kills American jobs, it is. That’s a pretty simple analysis, from my perspective."
I asked if, in the broader scheme, a globalized economy helps all of us — the Walmart Paradox, let's call it.
"It’s certainly possible on a macro level but on a micro level, it’s rarely true," he said. "My view tends to be micro."
He said that the government should eliminate tax breaks for companies that move jobs overseas — a quadrennial or biennial rallying cry — and reward companies that create jobs here with tax breaks.