DEPAUVILLE Matthew A. Doheny could hardly have found a more receptive audience if he had tried.
Thomas M. Brennan, the owner of the high-tech company SpringDrive in this low-visibility hamlet, told the Republican candidate for Congress in the north country that he was taken aback by President Barack Obamas recent remarks about the role of the individual and the role of the government in creating a business.
And like Mr. Doheny, Mr. Brennan lives in the real world where government does help businesses expand and create jobs, which means theyre conflicted about the chasm between what they think the federal government ought to do, and what the federal government does. Namely, giving out grants.
This guy would have been successful no matter what, Mr. Doheny said in an interview outside of the companys Route 12 office. If there are the resources, people are going to take advantage of it. It doesnt mean its the policy that should (exist).
Like many companies, SpringDrive has received a boost from the federal government. Since the company was founded in 1999, it has won two government grants totaling about $130,000 that helped it buy the massive printers and scanners now lining the entrance of the former motorcycle dealership in which it is housed. A large ceremonial check for $1,000 from a county economic development agency hangs on the wall, honoring the company as a growing new business. The company, formerly known as CAD & Facilities Services Inc., specializes in computer-aided drafting, scanning and graphic design.
Mr. Dohenys discomfort with the types of grants that SpringDrive has received puts him at philosophical odds with his Nov. 6 opponent, Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh. Mr. Owens envisions a more aggressive role for the federal government in job creation though hes quick to caution that its not job creation, per se, but creating the environment for jobs.
The political row began earlier this month on the national level when Mr. Obama, at a campaign stop in Virginia, was talking about the importance of collective work in building roads, bridges, highways and educating students. The presidents point: Those who succeed in business dont get there on their own. To some, the comment came across as insulting to the hard work that business owners have put in, and a troublesome sign about Mr. Obamas view of public enterprise.
While Mr. Doheny disagreed with the spirit of the comments, hes no go-it-alone purist on government intervention in commerce. He keeps it to four categories: Police, courts, military and infrastructure. He has a somewhat expansive view of infrastructure, which includes cellphone and Internet service in rural areas. He also has previously expressed support for small-airport subsidies that keep service flying in and out of Watertown, Ogdensburg and Massena.
Government has a key, if not fundamental, if not sole role, in terms of infrastructure, Mr. Doheny said. That road right there, Route 12, thats infrastructure.
So is the expansion of rural broadband and cellphone coverage, which often is hard to come by in wide swaths of the rural north country.
His dim viewof small-bore subsidies comes from the countrys federal budget deficit and also a fundamental issue of fairness, he said: business works best when success is rewarded, and a government hand thats too heavy can warp the natural flow of the marketplace.
Mr. Owens is more of a traditionalist on the government grant score. His office sends out email notifications when the United States Department of Agriculture or the Small Business Administration gives out government cash for economic development, and compiled them in one email for this story.
The grants can help companies create jobs, Mr. Owens said, and most of his constituents want to keep them around.
I think many people depend upon these types of grant programs, and I think you have to go back and look at why are they there. Theyre an attempt to help develop jobs, he said. If you took all those things away, I believe it would have a dramatically negative impact on employment.
Mr. Owens said he hadnt heard Mr. Obamas remarks.
Mr. Brennan, the owner of SpringDrive, said that he probably wont apply for government money again. He also said that among his major challenges as a businessman is the uncertainty wrought by Mr. Obamas health-care law, which makes him wary about hiring more people. He said he wants to see the results of the Nov. 6 elections before he makes any decisions. Mr. Doheny supports repeal of the health-care law, while Mr. Owens voted to approve it.
His Internet connection is suitable for his needs now, Mr. Brennan said.
Which brings up a subject that many defenders of an activist federal government point to: the federal government was instrumental in the creation and development of the Internet.
Asked about this seeming conundrum, Mr. Doheny was bemused, though he never clarified why.
Why are you asking ridiculous questions? he said. That is a ridiculous question. Ridiculous. What are you talking about?