Here we go again

When IBM paid GlobalFoundries $1.5 billion to take its chip-making operations off its hands, including the Essex Junction facility, Vermont breathed a sigh of relief. All the drama, all the domestic cutbacks by IBM, the rumors, the questions… we could put all that to bed.

Right?

Not so much.

Multiple media reports say a state-owned Chinese chip manufacturer has been sniffing around. The Albany Times Union:

Anxious to grow its semiconductor industry and secure a stable supply of microchips for its high-tech economy, the Chinese government is reportedly looking into buying GlobalFoundries…

Mubadala Development Co., the Abu Dhabi government investment fund that owns GlobalFoundries, may be under increasing pressure to consider any offers for its chip-making unit as the plunge of global oil prices has put enormous pressure on the oil-rich emirate’s finances.

Hoo boy. Out of the frying pan.

Makes me wonder two things. First, was GF’s “purchase” of the IBM operation merely a cash grab? A large-scale industrial version of “Flip This House”? Second, all of GF’s assurances to Vermont officials are worth exactly the paper they were written on. Assuming they were ever written down in the first place.

If the GF transaction turned Essex Junction into a pawn in a global game, a Chinese takeover would turn Essex Junction into a zit on a mega-corporation’s ass. I mean, if you think the Chinese wouldn’t close Essex Junction in a heartbeat if they could save a nickel by moving the whole shebang to Shanghai, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn you might be interested in.

And it’d have nothing to do with Vermont. In the face of Chinese strategic considerations, our policies and “business climate” are insignificant. That wouldn’t stop Republicans and business types from slamming the Democrats, but it’d be pure substance-free political posturing.

This is far from a done deal. The Times Union says that even if a sale is agreed to, it’s certain to face opposition in Washington. Specifically, powerful New York Sen. Chuck Schumer “has vowed to block the sale of any U.S. technology companies to state-owned companies in China until the government opens up its markets to U.S. firms and stops stealing U.S. intellectual property.”

Which raises an interesting philosophical point. Since IBM dumped its chip business onto GlobalFoundries, is it a “U.S. technology company” anymore?

Well, that wouldn’t keep the politicians from making their hay with some juicy election-year China-bashing. They might even succeed in blocking a sale, or sufficiently fouling the waters that China decides it’s not worth the trouble.

But here’s the larger point. Even if China doesn’t buy, this certainly shines a new and unflattering light on GlobalFoundries as a “partner” to Vermont. To paraphrase the Psalmist, “Put not your trust in global corporations…”

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