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Opinion

Why not buy at home?

| Saturday, May 15, 2004

It's good that Gov. Ed Rendell wants to save us money by requiring his administration to be prudent and savvy in awarding state contracts.

He seeks to save $100 million a year in state purchases, no small sum at any time, but especially welcome in an era of tight budgets.

What might stand as the cornerstone of this effort was his announcement that the commonwealth would buy all 73,000 of the computers it needs from one vendor, Texas-based Dell Inc., at a savings of $19.1 million.

There's no question that Dell, the nation's largest computer manufacturer, makes a fine product (this editorial was written on one). And there's no question that there are likely to be additional benefits from the state utilizing the same brand of computer to meet all its needs.

But there are trade-offs to this approach, and they need to be recognized and calculated. State government, after all, spends many millions of dollars ever year to attract and retain businesses in Pennsylvania. It advertises, it gives grants and tax forgiveness, it lends money and builds roads, all to generate business.

And then it goes and spends $144 million to purchase computers from an out-of-state vendor.

We fully recognize that no company in Pennsylvania is capable of meeting the state's computer needs. And there never will be, with this approach.

Yet, there are small computer firms in this state -- Mechanicsburg-based Lam Systems Inc. is one -- that could grow and expand employment if just a small slice of this contract were set aside for Pennsylvania-based bidders.

One agency, one department with special needs, could have been carved off this massive contract and a request for computers could have been made separately to companies based within 50 miles, to encourage local computer firms to bid. Not only would this have helped nurture the in-state computer industry, it could have served as a benchmark for just how well Dell performs in fulfilling its contractual obligations.

No less important, the computer dollars spent in Pennsylvania would have had a multiplier effect, helping business, benefiting the economy, adding jobs and generating taxes.

The administration needs a more balanced bidding strategy, one that seeks to save dollars but one which also recognizes that the state's purchasing power has great value as an economic-development tool right here at home.

-- The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News

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