Tag Archives: Essex Junction

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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That “unconventional” Milne campaign is beginning to look awfully typical

When Scott “Mr. Bunny” Milne first announced his candidacy for Governor, I had some hope that he could be a different kind of candidate: exemplifying the new, more inclusive VTGOP, and also just providing a breath of fresh air in the stale provinces of same-ol’, same-ol’ campaign tactics and rhetoric.

Welp,things aren’t looking so good.

First of all, he dipped into the VTGOP’s “talent pool” — more like a puddle, really — for his campaign manager. Brent Burns, who barely managed to last a year on the party staff, will head the Milne campaign for a reported fee of $5,000 per month. It’s cheap by Darcie Johnston standards, anyway.

And if this week’s public statements are any indication, Milne is being dragged back into a standard-issue, kneejerk negative kind of campaign. He keeps this up for a few weeks, we won’t be able to tell him from Randy Brock. Blergh.

Today, VTDigger posted an opinion piece by Milne, outlining the rationale for his candidacy. It’s full of Republican blather about restoring balance to government, even as he fires wild volleys at the Democrats which, if true, ought to disqualify them from any leadership role whatsoever. He talks of the Dems’ “headling march into the unknown,” their effort to make Vermont “the most radical state in the union every day,” and their “wild dreams” as opposed to Milne’s level-headed, “common sense” approach. “Common sense” being a patented dog whistle for Vermont Republicans, basically meaning “let’s not do anything, and let’s do it slowly.”

And then he pines for the days when he “could comfortably sleep at night, knowing that the ship of state was stable.” So, we’re supposed to believe that Shumlin’s irresponsibility has turned Milne into an insomniac, like a passenger on the Titanic whose slumber is shattered by visions of giant icebergs? That kind of rhetoric might warm the cockles of Jack Lindley’s tiny heart, but it won’t do anything to win moderates and independents to Milne’s cause.

Milne also promises that most ancient of conservative canards, “a business approach to government.” As I’ve written before, over and over again, business and government are two different things. Every time a conservative, or rich man turned politician, tries to run government like a business, he discovers that it’s impossible. Businesses are responsible to shareholders and/or customers; governments are responsible to everybody, and have to do a lot of things the private sector would never do. So please, put that tired bit of rhetoric to bed.

Today also brought another installment of the Burlington Free Press’ breathless coverage of What Will IBM Do? The Freeploid gave plenty of space to Milne’s off-the-rack criticism of Governor Shumlin for allegedly chasing Big Blue away. Milne claimed that Shumlin was a big meanie who once dared confront an IBM executive over Vermont Yankee — in 2008! But that wasn’t enough exhumation for Mr. Bunny; he also dug up the dead horse of the Circumferential Highway, for God’s sake, and beat it around some more.

He also slammed the Governor for spending his time on the GMO bill “while thousands of families’ livelihoods are at risk.” As if the Governor can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. I’m just surprised Milne didn’t bring up Shumlin’s recent four-day vacation.

It’s all typical Republican nonsense; IBM’s decisions are being made on a global level with an eye toward maximizing profit. No amount of deal-cutting or road-building or smiley faces will have the least effect on the future of the Essex Junction facility.

And of course, Milne isn’t offering any solutions profounder than a smiley face: “My tone would have been a more business-friendly tone.”

Ah yes. A friendlier tone. That’d make all the difference.

Oh Cioffi, don’t take your love to town

Welp, the Burlington area business community has, in the immortal words of Kenny Rogers, painted up its lips and rolled and curled its hair, and is clearly contemplating going out somewhere.

The occasion: the long-rumored, virtually inevitable, closure of IBM’s plant in Essex Junction. The response: Frank Cioffi, well-connected head of the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation, has outlined a plan to entice IBM or its successor to please, please, please not leave Vermont. </a>

And while the Cioffi Plan doesn’t quite go so far as to offer free hookers ‘n blow, he does seem willing to put on a miniskirt and, ahem, bend over backwards to make our corporate overlords feel right at home. This, in spite of the obvious fact that nothing Vermont can do will change the course of events in Essex Junction. Decision-making at IBM and the rumored purchaser of its chip-making business, Globalfoundries, is taking place on a much broader stage than ours.

And sure, any corporate overlord would be happy to accept a handout (or a blowjob, metaphorically speaking), but it won’t extend the life of the plant by a single iota. It’ll just bleed the state’s treasury by a little but significant bit.

Now look, I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to keep the plant open and its roughly* 4000 jobs intact. But it’s not worth selling ourselves and creating a bad precedent for future corporate overlords if it won’t help.

*”Roughly” because IBM refuses to release employment numbers or layoff totals. It’s almost certainly a lot less than 4000 and dwindling, but who the hell knows. Nice corporate neighbor is IBM. 

The Cioffi Plan includes the usual bumpf. Using that prospective $4.5 million slush fund, approved by the Legislature but contingent on found money, to bribe induce IBM to stick around. Boosting workforce training programs, which is nice but the problem at Essex isn’t the workforce, which is excellent; it’s IBM’s infernal profit-seeking.  Establishing state and regional “action teams” (with Cioffi getting a big seat at the table) to, I guess, take action. Or at least talk about it.

Oh, and one curious item:

• Identify a “public entity buyer” for the IBM campus wastewater treatment facility and other campus infrastructure, using state and federal resources to acquire and subsidize operating costs, as the IBM infrastructure is “the most significant in our state.”

Hmm. Sounds like Cioffi wants to free IBM or its successor of infrastructure and waste-management responsibility for the plant — which is one goddamn huge item — and transfer it lock, stock, and leaky barrels to the public sector. I’d really like to see a price tag on that one. Do we, the people, also assume liability?

One thing Cioffi left off his laundry list was the cost of electricity. Perhaps that’s because Governor Shumlin already negotiated a price break for the plant. Still, it’s unlike our Business Whores to leave any favor unoffered.

Aside from the transfer of the “wastewater treatment facility and other campus infrastructure,” none of these ideas are particularly troubling. Or creative. Or anywhere near enough to influence a decision-making process that’s happening far away for reasons having nothing to do with Vermont’s  business-friendliness.

Indeed, Cioffi himself acknowledges that his big plan won’t help retain IBM.

Cioffi said that “regardless of what name is on the door of the IBM Vermont enterprise, we all must act immediately and convincingly to demonstrate our state’s commitment and our region’s commitment to the well-being of the IBM enterprise.”

In the words of another songwriter: Hey, Vermont, put on your red light, and get ready to sell your body to the night.

 

Ironic postscript. Why is it that the champions of free-market capitalism are always eager to give a publicly-funded advantage to selected enterprises? Shouldn’t the government stay out of the way and, as Mitt Romney put it, stop trying to pick winners and losers?