Mitt Romney on a visit to a Roxbury truck company Thursday slammed President Obama for suggesting profitable businesses owe their success to government.
Flanked by denim-clad workers in a garage bay at Middlesex Truck & Coach, Romney praised company owner Brian Maloney and his family, asserting “they did build this business.”
Romney’s brief address was a direct assault on a remark Obama made during a campaign event in Virginia last Friday. “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that,” the president said. “Somebody else made that happen.”
Obama’s message echoed that of Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren — under consideration by the Obama campaign as a possible keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention — who said last summer that “there is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.”
In context, Democrats argue, Obama and Warren were simply noting that successful Americans have benefited from public investments — the roads that make delivery of goods possible, the schools that educate workers, the police and fire services that keep plants safe.
But Romney contended Obama’s “you didn’t build that” comment betrays a belief “that people who build enterprises like this really aren’t responsible for it.”
“Come here and talk to Brian, and you’ll learn that in fact he did build this business,” Romney said. “Someone else isn’t responsible for what he did here. He’s the one that took the risk. He’s the one that built this enterprise.”
Added Maloney, “I take umbrage at the suggestion that people don’t start and build businesses.”
“We don’t need any more of government’s help,” he continued. “We haven’t had any.”
In fact, the city and federal governments appear to have played at least some role in Middlesex Truck & Coach’s early growth.
Maloney founded his company as an auto body shop in Cambridge in 1966, while pursuing an MBA at Boston College. In the late 1970s, according to a 1986 Globe profile of the business, “he approached Boston city officials because a preferential bank loan was possible if his firm relocated to the Crosstown Industrial Park,” where Middlesex Truck & Coach remains to this day.
In its first year at the new location, Maloney’s company accepted a $560,000 federal government contract to overhaul 10 buses. Within a half-decade of the move, Maloney reported, his company had quintupled its annual revenue.
Romney said Maloney’s business “is not the result of government.”
“This is the result of people who take risk, who have dreams, who built for themselves and for their families,” Romney said.
Neither Romney nor Maloney answered reporters’ questions after the event. Maloney did not respond to a phone message left at his office.
Outside Middlesex Truck & Coach, a group of about 60 demonstrators mocked the wealthy Romney for visiting Roxbury, one of Boston’s poorest neighborhoods.
Some held signs that read, “Hey, Willard, are you lost? Roxbury doesn’t like you.”
Others hoisted fake tombstones emblazoned with the names of businesses that went bankrupt under the ownership of Bain Capital, the private equity firm Romney founded.
A common refrain was that Romney, who has refused to release more than two years of tax returns, should make public more financial information.
“What are you hiding that I’m going to find out later?” asked Darrin Howell, 30.
Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson, a Democrat, joined the criticism of Romney when he spoke to reporters after the candidate had departed.
“I’m very happy that former governor Romney found his way here, but you know what? . . . He didn’t find himself in this community that often” as governor, Jackson said.
Romney has been called out-of-touch with the state’s urban communities since his unsuccessful run for US Senate in 1994. Thursday’s trip to Maloney’s Middlesex Truck & Coach might not thwart that attack.
Maloney, though he owns a business in Roxbury, lives in a six-bedroom colonial in Brookline assessed at $1.3 million, according to property records.
Romney’s visit to Middlesex Truck & Coach coincided with his campaign’s release of a Web video that features the owner of a metal fabricating company in Hudson, N.H., who says Obama is “demonizing” small-business owners for their hard work.
The Obama campaign responded to Romney’s attack by releasing its own video that includes excerpts from Romney’s ad and claims the GOP nominee is taking the president’s words out of context.
In Virginia, Obama’s blunt “you didn’t build that” was accompanied by, “There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.”
In Roxbury, Romney criticized Obama not only for his words but also for recent weak jobs reports and for going six months without meeting with his business-advisory Jobs Council, which is supposed to offer him private-sector insight for leading the nation’s economic recovery.
During the same six-month stretch, Romney said, Obama has attended 106 fund-raisers.
“And so I think you learn something about the president’s priorities,” Romney said. “The job he’s interested in protecting is his own.”