Dean to Meet IBM Officials on Thursday

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(Host) Governor Howard Dean will meet with IBM officials on Thursday to discuss the company’s future in Vermont. Dean says he expects that IBM will lay off some workers at its Essex Junction facility but the governor doubts the plant will be sold.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The uncertainty over the future of IBM in Vermont continued on Wednesday as speculation grew concerning possible layoffs and the possible sale of IBM’s Essex Junction production facility.

Earlier this week, several financial analysts predicted that IBM could lay off as many as 1,500 employees in Vermont – that would represent about 20% of the current workforce. These analysts also said that IBM might sell its Vermont plant to an international corporation.

Governor Howard Dean urged reporters on Wednesday not to speculate about the IBM story until the facts become clear. That could happen as early as Thursday because Dean has requested a meeting with IBM officials. Dean is expecting bad news but he thinks that IBM will stay in Vermont:

(Dean) “My own assessment of the situation is that, you know there are a lot of rumors and a lot of scared people because this is such an important plant – the most important plant in Vermont, in some ways. It’s good to remind everybody how incredibly important IBM is to our economy because there are those who from time to time complain about IBM, and so forth and so on. This is a good reminder of just how important IBM is. My personal belief is that there will probably be some cutbacks and that some of the more wild rumors are probably not true but I don’t have any reason to say that from an inside perspective.”

(Kinzel) Dean has been meeting with IBM officials three or four times a year for the past decade. The governor says the state has tried very hard to work with IBM on key issues. He says there is very little the state can do in the current situation because the company’s problems are linked to a slowdown in international demand for computer chips – chips that are manufactured at the Vermont plant:

(Dean) “There have been very few things they’ve asked for they haven’t gotten. It’s been very clear to me what their long-term plans have been. This is a very serious downturn in the chip market but this is not the end of the chip market; a very serious downturn in IBM’s business but certainly not the end of IBM’s business. They were in much worse shape five or six years ago. So their long-term plan is to grow here or least it was prior to this downturn. Maybe they’re going to tell us they’ve adjusted the plant – I don’t know that yet.”

(Kinzel) Dean says the state will face an extremely serious situation if the changes at IBM are worse than he expects.

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

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