Concerns about the possible sale of IBM in Essex Junction have business leaders trying to save some 4,000 jobs. The Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation has released what it calls an ambitious roadmap not only to keep IBM in Vermont, but to keep a potential buyer from pulling up stakes as well.
The so-called Vermont Action Plan is a mix of financial and technical incentives aimed at strengthening the state's support of IBM's chip plant in Essex Junction and the roughly 4,000 workers who reportedly still work there.
"Our goals behind this are, one: to retain and support as many of the 4,000 jobs of the Vermonters who work directly for IBM today as is possible. Number two: protect the addition 4,000 Vermont families whose jobs and economic well being rely on the investments and economic activity of IBM Vermont," said the GBIC's Frank Cioffi.
Earlier in the day the Governor Peter Shumlin said for the most part, he is in sync with the plan. "We will agree with most of what GBIC proposes -- was developed in partnership with us. We are obviously going to work together to do whatever makes sense. I am not saying we agree with everything they recommend, but we certainly will be deploying good chunks of it," Shumlin said.
One of the more controversial parts of the plan is granting all of the $4.5 million dollars from the newly created Vermont Enterprise Fund to IBM or the new owner of the IBM campus. But that would require approval from the Governor and the Legislature's Emergency Board.
GBIC is also recommending a combination of tax incentives, utility cost cuts, and investment incentives to be more favorable to business -- all would need legislative approval.
Economist Art Woolf does not think financial incentives are enough to keep IBM in Vermont. "I think Vermont can't compete unfortunately at this late stage. I think throwing that kind of money at IBM, it's certainly better than nothing as far as IBM is concerned, but there is a lot more fundamental issues that IBM is and has been concerned about," Woolf said.
Issues like transportation. "They are very concerned over for the last 10-20 years about transportation issues. They were very much in favor of completing the CIRC Highway -- we didn't do that. Our electric rates are pretty high -- very high by national standards, and they are going up, whereas nationally they are flat or down -- that's an issue. They have been trying to deal with that with the PSB in this state recently," Woolf said.
If the IBM's chip plant is sold, GBIC, The Shumlin administration and Art Woof all agree chip making would most likely still continue in Essex Junction. "I believe there will be time to prepare if in fact there is a decision to close that plant. But here again I just don't see it, and I hope I am proven right, but there is too much good going on there -- too much of a market that has already been met," said Vt. Secretary of Commerce & Community Development Patricia Moulton.
And Woolf says there is one more thing to keep in mind. "We have kind of already experienced the loss of IBM because it is half the size it used to be and we are still here," he said.
The sale of IBM to Global Foundries, or another company, is still just speculation. Moulton says the best way to be prepared to deal with a possible sale is to make sure business leaders, state leaders and members of Vermont's congressional delegation are ready to spring into action, if and when that time comes.