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State, Business Group Plan Effort To Keep IBM Jobs

Toby Talbot
A series of reports that IBM is selling its chip manufacturing division has officials concerned about the future of the company's Essex Junction facility.

With reports that IBM may soon sell its chip manufacturing division, Vermont officials and a local commerce group are getting ready to try to keep the division’s jobs in Vermont.

Gov. Peter Shumlin has been reading the widespread reports in the financial press that IBM is going to sell its chip manufacturing division, and he’s concerned.

The division employs more than 4,000 Vermonters at its Essex Junction Plant, and there’s no guarantee that a new buyer would keep that plant open.

But Shumlin is hoping to help the odds.

“What I want is as many tools as I can have in the tool box to work together with IBM or some future partner –  if there’s going to be a future partner – to try and make sure that chip making continues here in the state,” he said Monday.

Some of those tools were revealed at a news conference in Burlington, where the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation made a series of recommendations, mostly to make sure whoever owns the plant has plenty of cash and few reasons to leave. Shumlin said his administration was involved in the development of many of the GBIC proposals.

“So the first thing is that we recommend that the new Vermont Enterprise Fund of $4.5 million be granted to the IBM campus ownership in full support of the workforce and the campus infrastructure there,” said GBIC President Frank Cioffi, who presented the plans.

Other proposals include increased workforce training, infrastructure upgrades to the roads and electric system near the plant, and the suspension of taxes and tariffs for the plant.

But Cioffi said the GBIC plan – which includes the outright public purchase of IBM’s electrical infrastructure and water treatment plant – doesn’t plan for any new state funding.

“If more resources are needed,” he said, “then we will work as a team with the leadership in Vermont to try to find a way to find those resources.”

As for the $4.5 million Enterprise Fund the legislature designed this year to keep jobs in Vermont, both Cioffi and the Shumlin administration agree it should be used for the IBM plant.

But nobody seems to know whom to give the 4.5 million taxpayer dollars to – IBM or whatever company might buy the chip division (the current frontrunner, according to a Bloomberg News report, is California-based GlobalFoundries).

Cioffi says the state money should be deployed on July first, the first day it’s available.

“It would be GBIC’s opinion to [give the money to] whoever owns the facility,” he said. “Right now, IBM owns the facility, and that’s all we can count on is that at this point in time.”

Whoever owns the facility, its unclear if the 4.5 million dollar investment will be enough of a factor to keep the multi-billion-dollar operation in the state.

Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.
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