Vermont leaders are bracing for the possible sale of IBM's semiconductor operations. They're hoping to protect the 4,000 jobs at the Essex Junction plant.
National media reports say chipmaker GlobalFoundries is the likely buyer. The international company has a big new plant about three hours from here, just outside Albany in Malta, New York. And as Darren Perron found, it took a lot of money, a ton of infrastructure and an educated workforce to bring this giant company to tiny Malta.
Jason Miller brushes up on his mechanical skills during class.
"They are all closer to my kid's age than they are to my age," he said.
He's learning what to do when something goes wrong.
"Basically I fix the machines that write the pattern on the microchip," Miller explained.
The father of three moved to Malta, New York, from Virginia for a new job at GlobalFoundries.
"Microchips aren't going anywhere, it's a thriving industry and it is only going to grow," he said.
GlobalFoundries makes microchips used in just about any digital technology-- cellphones, computers, and watches for example.
The Malta plant known as Fab 8 employs more than 2,000 people now, and is expected to employ 4,500 by the end of next year. That's comparable to the workforce at IBM in Essex Junction. GlobalFoundries is growing, and fast, and is the leading candidate to purchase IBM's chipmaking division, including the plant in Essex Junction.
Initially GlobalFoundries agreed to give us a tour of its plant in Malta and an interview with WCAX News. But a spokesperson later backed out, admitting the speculation surrounding the sale of IBM's chipmaking to GlobalFoundries is the reason why.
There are numerous parallels, says Jack Kelley. Kelley helped negotiate the deal to bring GlobalFoundries to Malta, but first he and his economic development team visited IBM Essex Junction to see what the state and community did there to accommodate Big Blue and how IBM impacted the community.
Malta made big changes-- new infrastructure, roads, roundabouts, water, sewer-- all lined up to attract the microchip giant.
"It takes money, money needs to be invested," Kelley said.
And New York did big time and provided GlobalFoundries nearly $2 billion in grants and tax credits.
"I think the major benefit here so far is people being employed with good paying jobs," Kelley.
But GlobalFoundries needs more workers, a lot more. And so, the other promise the state and Malta made-- a highly trained workforce.
"When I saw the place and it was incredible, I was glad I landed there," Tommy Reamon said.
Reamon just graduated with an engineering degree and just got hired by GlobalFoundries. He's also getting trained at Hudson Valley Community College's Tec-Smart school, a school specifically started to meet the needs of GlobalFoundries.
"They have expanded so much in such a short amount of time," Reamon said. "I could see myself for a while here, yeah."
"What we like to think here is that we are lining up some of that workforce to meet their needs... It was positioned here with that intention," said Penny Hill of Hudson Valley Community College Tec-Smart. "They have an unfulfilled need for skilled workers."
Even high schools in the area offer tech ed and training specifically tailored to meet the workforce needs of GlobalFoundries.
"They have a lot of opportunities for young people and those looking to better their career," said Josh Fryer, who attended a GlobalFoundries job fair.
GlobalFoundries is doing its own recruiting, too, hosting job fairs like this one.
"I have a lot of experience in facilities engineering and I like doing hands-on work," said Thomas Giminiani, who attended the job fair.
Giminiani hopes to get a job there and his chances look good. He got an immediate interview with a company rep.
"I feel good. I have a lot of homework to do now. They will send me the test I need to take and so forth," Giminiani said.
GlobalFoundries is also recruiting builders, looking for electricians, for example, for its ever-growing campus. The company is even reaching out to workers in Vermont. All of those new employees mean a lot of new construction in Malta. The town now known for GlobalFoundries used to be known as the birthplace of the U.S. space program, rocket fuel testing and where the bunker buster bomb was created. That site, now abandoned, was surrounded by woods as a protective buffer zone and a sleepy bedroom community. Not anymore, GlobalFoundries now occupies 229 acres here.
"Malta has been transforming itself for the last eight years," Malta Town Supervisor Paul Sausville said.
Sausville says GlobalFoundries has led to significant improvements in town. And the company makes major donations, like a $1 million ballfield.
"We are trying to become a 21st century town," Sausville said. "Other towns will say that's a good job, a pretty good model."
But he admits the significant and speedy changes don't sit well with everyone in town.
Paul Sausville: That somehow we were going to grow into a larger city... And so there are two dueling views... and then there's the view here that we want to retain our small town charm... So that's one of them pushes-pulls that we have in our town.
Reporter Darren Perron: Sort of growing pains, if you will?
Paul Sausville: They're growing pains. Traffic is a big problem for us.
But more than a dozen roundabouts keep cars moving in a town on the move because of GlobalFoundries.
"The best way to be a winner is to hang out with winners, so we went after that industry," Kelley said.
Kelley says if GlobalFoundries buys IBM's Essex plant, he expects only positive partnerships and expanding opportunities for the entire region on both sides of Lake Champlain, what he calls Tech Valley.
"We are in this together, Vermont, New York, we are Tech Valley together," Kelley said. "There are a lot of kids having a good Christmas this coming year as a result of what we did and the same thing can happen in Vermont."
A lot of the young people getting trained to work at GlobalFoundries are also interested in the company because of the company's commitment to renewable energy, and folks in Malta say that could play in Vermont's favor as well, because of the state's focus on renewable energy.Related Stories: