IBM Shock

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(Host) Commentator Peg Devlyn says that changes at IBM should spur changes in Vermont’s economic development policy.

(Devlyn) When IBM fired 988 Vermonters last week, they instantly crystallized for us how vulnerable our state’s economy is to decisions made by people who are not accountable to Vermont. Now, once again, hundreds of families face their livelihoods falling apart. The company that used to stand for good, secure jobs has now succumbed to the ethic of the so-called global economy, where people are as disposable as old computers.

Who would have thought we would see the day when it seems the most secure guy in town is the one with a barn full of cows? Nobody’s moving his job to East Fishkill or Taiwan.

With IBM fear seizing the state, certainly nobody wants to criticize the company. We feel needy. We don’t like it, but IBM holds a huge club now over Vermont – a club they are willing to hold over public issues from transportation policy to their recent venture into energy policy to kill a renewable energy bill. This experience is getting people to re-think Vermont’s economic priorities.

Governor Dean has pointed out that 80% of Vermont jobs come from small businesses. We now realize that we need to shift state efforts to support those home grown employers who are the state’s economic backbone. These are people who have invested in Vermont from their entrepreneurial beginnings. They put down their roots, grew their companies here, and plan to stay.

Vermont small businesses often swim upriver. The state spends our economic development resources trying to lure large employers here in competition with every other state in the country, while the real lasting growth goes on under their noses and largely without their help. These small businesses don’t ask for handouts, tax breaks, or new infrastructure. Our leaders need to recognize that they create good jobs here and grow strong, clean high quality businesses.

As I leaf quickly through a business directory on my desk, I see an engineering firm with 120 topnotch positions, a natural food distributor with 190, a training program with 120, small software consultants, media services, and financial services by the dozens, that provide ten to a hundred good jobs at a time. The list is as varied and limitless as the energy and creativity of the Vermonters who had the nerve to first hang up a sign and offer their own talents and visions to their neighbors.

These are the businesses state policy should support.

Peg Devlyn is co-owner of Marketing Partners, Inc. in Burlington, Vermont.

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