Bush Visits The Printer
DES MOINES, IA—President Bush reached out to the heartland of America and its small business community while visiting a commercial printer here to touch on a topic that has made dubious headlines in the news lately—401(k) pension plans.
In light of the bankruptcy of energy concern Enron and the subsequent loss of employee retirement plans tied into company stock, the president made The Printer—a 150-employee commercial printer—a stop on his retirement security reform tour on March 1. Holding out The Printer as the ideal model for small businesses that offer 401(k) plans, President Bush took the opportunity to revisit changes in investment restrictions while outlining other revisions he would like to see take place. They include:
* Allowing workers to sell any stock their publicly traded company contributes to the plan after participating in the plan for three years.
* During blackout periods (which can occur when companies change a fund manager, for example) when employees aren't able to do transactions, company executives also should not be able to make transactions.
* At the very least, companies need to provide quarterly reports to inform employees of their 401(k)'s performance.
Piece of the Future
"The whole point is this; we ought to do everything we can in Washington to encourage people to own a piece of the future," Bush said during his 25-minute speech to The Printer's employees. "The more somebody owns something, the more somebody builds up an asset base, the better off America will be. And whether it be in Social Security or 401(k)s, we've got to understand the power of compounding interest, the importance of savings and the beauty of ownership in the American society."
Bush's visit created a whirlwind of activity leading up to March 1, according to Bill Benskin, president of The Printer. Benskin's company was selected out of a group of 10 that were under consideration. The Printer wasn't confirmed until February 25, the Monday prior to Bush's slated appearance.
Benskin soon learned how detailed each presidential appearance is mapped out. Nine branches of the Secret Service paid a visit to The Printer, conducting background checks, physically inspecting the plant, sweeping for biological and chemical issues, and monitoring landline and wireless communications, among other things.
"When I first got the phone call (informing of Bush's visit), I didn't realize the magnitude of the event," Benskin admits. "We've had governors and senators at the facility before, but I guess I didn't realize what it's like when the heart of the U.S. government comes to your company. It was phenomenal to watch. The Secret Service was everywhere for five days.
"It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, an incredible event, and the process leading to it was awesome."
Prior to his speech, Bush held a 25-minute roundtable discussion on the 401(k) plan with four of The Printer's employees. Following the general speech, which also touched on the national economy and the country's war on terrorism, Bush spent 25 minutes greeting the employees.
The Printer has had a 401(k) program in place for its employees since 1986. Benskin noted that his company has a high participation rate, along with a savings rate that is three and a half times the national average. That, he said, played a large role in The Printer being selected for the visit.
Benskin was thoroughly impressed by President Bush and came away from the experience with a better appreciation of the person and his job.
"He's a phenomenal man, a smart and compassionate man," Benskin said of Bush. "It wasn't a speech (Bush delivered), it was more like a discussion he had with our employees. His visit meant a lot to the employees, their families and this community."