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Austin Hill: Car dealer offers fallacy for failure

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Posted: Thursday, September 18, 2008 9:41 pm

Did Arizona’s employer sanctions law claim its first business victim?

I don’t think so. But a certain business owner would like us to believe this. At least, it appears as though he’d like “the folks back home” to think so.

The leadership of Bill Heard Chevrolet, a long-standing car dealership in Scottsdale, made it official last Friday — they will “permanently and completely” shut down their 2-year-old south Scottsdale dealership. Bill Heard Jr., chief executive officer for the company, cited a litany of reasons why the operation failed.

And speaking of “the company,” it’s important to know that Bill Heard Enterprises has headquarters in Columbus, Ga. It owns and operates five automobile dealerships in Georgia, with other dealerships throughout the states of Alabama, Florida, Nevada, Tennessee, Texas and, until last week, Arizona.

Bill Heard Enterprises is a “hometown” business entity in Columbus, and the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer is the hometown newspaper. As such, the Ledger-Enquirer wanted to know why Heard was closing one of its largest operations. So it did some investigating.

According to reports in the Ledger-Enquirer, Bill Heard Jr. offered several reasons for the Scottsdale Chevy dealership’s failure. The official company line, distributed in a statement released Friday: “Adverse economic conditions, high gasoline prices and an unfavorable product mix at the dealership combined to present an unsustainable business environment in the market.” And all of those reasons would seem to be legitimate.

Even though Maricopa County is weathering the economic downturn better than many other regions, we’ve clearly been feeling the pinch of a slowdown. Likewise, there’s no doubt that the spike in gasoline prices earlier this year continues to affect our local economy today (even though gas prices have been dropping the past several weeks).

As for Chevrolet — well, it’s no secret that earlier this decade the company became way too reliant on the sales of their large SUVs and trucks. When fuel prices began to rise, the sales of those huge, fuel-guzzling vehicles embarked on a sharp decline. And that spelled trouble for Chevy, from the corporate level right down to the local dealerships.

So, yes, “adverse economic conditions,” “high gasoline prices” and “an unfavorable product mix” would all seem to be legitimate reasons why Bill Heard Chevrolet had a tough go of it.

But in the midst of all this, there was a quirky little comment in the Ledger-Enquirer attributed to Bill Heard Jr.

“A month after we opened it (the Bill Heard Chevrolet location in Scottsdale), they kicked all the Hispanics out of Arizona,” he was quoted as saying. “Our business fell off 60 (percent) or 70 percent, and there was a recession on top of that.”

Now, what’s up with this? Presumably, this statement is intended to imply that governmental leaders “kicked all of the Hispanics” out of our state. These remarks are wrong-headed on multiple levels.

Sure, we’ve seen a decrease in the Hispanic population since the implementation of the employer sanctions law. But Arizona has not “kicked all the Hispanics out” of our state.

And this alleged “Hispanic removal” began a month after Bill Heard Chevrolet opened its big, 11-acre operation? Now that’s strange. The Heard location that just announced its closure was opened in 2006; Arizona’s employer sanctions law didn’t take affect until 2007.

In previous columns, I’ve written very critically about the employer sanctions law, and Gov. Janet Napolitano and the other individuals who brought it about. But flawed as the law may be, let’s get the record straight: Arizona did not “kick out all the Hispanics.”

I hope the “folks back home” in Columbus get the message.

Austin Hill of Gilbert is a host

for Arizona Web TV ("> and is heard on XM Satellite Radio. He is co-author of “White House Confidential: The Little Book of Weird Presidential History,” and is an editorialist for the national news and commentary site Contact him via e-mail at

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