Dean Reacts to IBM Announcement

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(Host) IBM cut 988 jobs yesterday at its Essex Junction microelectronics plant. It is one of the largest job cuts in the state’s history and it comes only a week after the state economist issued pessimistic projections for Vermont’s economic health. The state has put together a plan to help the laid off employees at IBM find new jobs.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel takes a look at the effort and reaction at the Statehouse to the IBM story.

(Kinzel) For the past few weeks, state officials have been nervously awaiting word from IBM about possible layoffs at the Essex Junction plant.

When fewer than a dozen employees were laid off at IBM late last month, some officials thought the worst might be over but Tuesday’s announcement of almost 1000 layoffs makes it clear that this is not the case.

Standing on the steps of the Statehouse, Governor Howard Dean told reporters at a hastily arranged press briefing that the IBM layoffs will have a major impact on the state economy:

(Dean) "This is a very cyclical business. It is a blow to Vermont. It could mean as much as $6 to $8 million in revenues in the 2003 budget. It’s a blow to Vermont, it’s a blow to the people who work at the plant, it’s a blow to the families. But it’s not a blow that we can’t recover from and we will recover from it."

(Kinzel) While some business leaders have complained that Vermont does not have a business friendly climate, Dean insisted that there was nothing the state could have done to prevent these layoffs:

(Dean) "This is a global slowdown in information technology, which anybody who follows the international markets knows about it. It has nothing to do with the business climate in Vermont and something to do with the business climate in the United States, but even that isn’t the whole reason."

(Kinzel) The state is working with IBM to help the laid off employees find new jobs and to provide them with essential information. Steve Gold is the commissioner of the state Department of Employment and Training:

(Gold) "And what we’re already working on is something called rapid response, where we will go in and meet with all of the employees in groups to make sure that they understand what resources and services the state has available. Specifically, of course, they’re very concerned about unemployment insurance and I already know that IBM has said that any severance pay will be non- disqualifying, which means it won’t count against their unemployment and that’s a positive step on the part of the company."

(Kinzel) And Gold says it’s critical for the state to work with the laid off employees for a long period if time:

(Gold) "When people go through a tremendous shock like losing a job, especially if you’ve been a long time employee, we find that they don’t get it all in the first shot and so we need to be continually available and we will make every effort to do that."

(Kinzel) Gold says he’s hopeful that Congress will soon pass legislation that will assist employees who have been laid off in the high tech industry with health care insurance payments after their severance package has run out.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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