Tag Archives: Frank Cioffi

A powerful display of self-interest, enlightened and otherwise

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott And Friends held their little Vermont Economy Pitch thingy last night. I couldn’t attend, more’s the pity. Scanning the available news sources, I see only two reports: one from VPR’s Steve Zind, and one from WCAX’s Eva McKend.

The event’s purpose was to solicit input from the business community on how to improve Vermont’s economy. (And, thinking cynically, position Scott as the business community’s leading advocate in Montpelier.)

Because, as we all know, no one in Montpelier ever listens to the business community. Truly, they are the voiceless among us. Cough, choke.

From what I read, the event failed to produce anything like a consensus. Quite the opposite: it seemingly delivered a parade of self-interest. Speaker after speaker suggested ideas aimed at helping his or her own sector.

Zind has a businessman from Stowe calling for more promotion of tourism. There’s a shocker.

On the other hand, representatives of manufacturing and technology called for the state to market itself less as a rural throwback and more as a great place to live and run a business.

Enough with the covered bridges already! Let’s fill our tourism brochures with pictures of factories, subdivisions, and strip malls!

Here’s my favorite:

Frank Cioffi of the Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce suggested that up to 10 businesses in each county be designated strategic employers and the state should focus on helping them.

How about that. The number-one cheerleader for IBM says we should focus on the state’s biggest businesses. Seems short-sighted to me; for one thing, big employers often make siting decisions without regard to Vermont policy. Including IBM itself, of course. For another, it’s reactive instead of proactive: we’d be helping the already established, instead of encouraging the up-and-comers who are actually creating new jobs. But what else would you expect from Frank Cioffi?

And here’s a tidbit from WCAX:

Matthew Dodds of Brandthropology says the state has a branding problem…

Gee, the head of a firm that helps clients “steward brands intelligently” thinks Vermont needs better stewardship of its brand.

Next we have an educator who says the biggest problem is, you guessed it, education.

Vermont Technical College President Dan Smith… said employers are eager for the college’s graduates, but financial woes caused by the low level of state funding are preventing VTC from meeting the demand for skilled workers.

One more, and I hate to do this because he’s a good guy. But Cairn Cross of Fresh Tracks Capital, believes the problem is inadequate access to capital. (I do give him credit for spotlighting a single statute, the Licensed Lender Law, as a roadblock. Far better than the usual “cut regulations, lower taxes, permit reform” blah-blah-blah.)

I’m sure there’s some wisdom in all these suggestions, but it adds up to a “Blind Men and the Elephant” scenario, with speakers interpreting the situation in light of their own viewpoints.

VPR’s Zind does report that there were some “recurring themes,” including job training, making housing more affordable, and (yes) access to capital.

But there’s not much new there. And the business community isn’t helping its cause in Montpelier if they’re all preaching from their own separate Scriptures.

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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?