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Are Cash Cows Killing America?

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The other night I watched an all-too-brief but still worthwhile CNBC interview with Starbucks (SBUX - Get Report) Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz.

Schultz discussed the decision to keep more of the company's business in the United States, focusing on Starbucks' Create Jobs for USA Fund. For instance, Starbucks contracted with a tiny ceramics company in East Liverpool, Ohio, to make mugs for the project. Schultz also noted that Starbucks built a factory in Augusta, Ga., forgoing considerable cost savings had the company placed it offshore. (He didn't mention if he selected Augusta so he could kill two birds with one stone each April -- visit the factory, watch some golf.)

These two efforts will create or preserve roughly 150 jobs. That's not a big number, but Schultz sounded genuine in his commitment to look for other opportunities. Several things he said struck me.

Because he doesn't expect Washington to get anything done between now and the presidential election, Schultz thinks corporate America has a responsibility to help fuel domestic growth. He talked about striking "a balance between profitability and responsibility." He also said pretty much the same thing Facebook (FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg relayed in his recent S-1 letter to investors:

These days I think more and more people want to use services from companies that believe in something beyond simply maximizing profits.

Schultz did not use the words "simply maximizing profits." While it would not have bothered me if he did, I just want to make that clear. He did, however, speak Zuckerberg's language.

Schultz contends that consumers want to spend money with companies that align with their values. He sees inaction in Washington. He sees a sluggish economy. He sees virtually dead places like East Liverpool. And, no doubt, he sees an opportunity. So he goes after it.

If you read Schultz's book about how he and his team brought Starbucks back from the brink, you'll realize that's what he has always done. Temper your cynicism here. I really do not see this as a phony show of goodwill. Ultimately, proof lays in how far Starbucks is willing to take things.

Can Apple Do More?

So Starbucks sacrifices a little bit on the bottom line (maybe) and spends some cash in an attempt to help boost domestic production. Clearly, it cannot incite meaningful change on its own. It's a bit like Bill Gates giving away half of his fortune. Nice gesture, but there's no sweeping impact until you enlist others to do the same. Even then, things still look relatively bleak.
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