Employees, State Officials Await IBM Announcement

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(Host) Concern continues to grow that International Business Machines will trim its Vermont workforce. Some stock analysts have reported that IBM plans to sell its Vermont chip-making plant and lay off 1,000 or more workers.

State officials say they don’t know if that’s true, but they’re getting increasingly worried about Vermont’s largest employer.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) IBM’s president will talk this week with financial analysts. The meeting may end the speculation over the company’s employment picture in Vermont and around the country.

State officials say they’re also hoping to learn more. Commerce Secretary Molly Lambert says she’s concerned about the most recent report in Tuesday’s Boston Globe that said IBM plans to sell its Vermont plant and lay off up to 1,500 workers. The report quoted a Boston stock analyst who said other computer chip companies from Korea, Taiwan and German were interested in buying the IBM plant in Essex Junction.

Lambert says she’s called the company repeatedly but hasn’t heard anything definite:

(Lambert) "The company is not confirming any of these rumors at this time, but I would say something is probably going to be happening. And I think we all are anxious to know precisely what that is."

(Dillon) Two financial analysts who follow IBM stock say that the Vermont plant is for sale and that lay-offs are imminent.

One of the experts, Fred Ramberg of Boston, says the Burlington plant is outdated. He says IBM may move some of the Vermont operations to its large complex in East Fishkill, New York, where IBM is building a new $2.5 billion plant.

And there’s another sign that IBM may expand in New York. Computer chip making requires huge amounts of water. IBM this week secured a new supply of water that will give it added capacity in East Fishkill.

Scott Chase is the executive director of the local water agency in Duchess County, New York. On Monday, county lawmakers decided to build a thirteen-mile long pipeline that will supply five million gallons a day of water for IBM. Chase says that IBM has hinted that it wants the pipeline to supply future growth in East Fishkill.

(Chase) "They would like to augment those supplies and also look to potential future expansion…. They have not given any firm indications that there will definitely be expansion here. But when you’re putting a pipeline in the ground, it makes sense to only do it once. So you put in a pipeline that’s large enough to meet potential future needs also."

(Dillon) Governor Howard Dean will meet with IBM this week. Dean says he hasn’t been told that IBM will expand in New York and shrink in Vermont:

(Dean) "I meet with IBM on an every three or four month basis…. Many years ago they laid out for me what their plans were, which included expanding in Fishkill, because they had a huge contraction there and left a couple of empty buildings that they intend to fill. But at no time has anybody ever told me that is going to happen at the expense of Essex."

(Dillon) An IBM spokesman said he couldn’t confirm or deny the reports of a sale or potential layoffs. A spokeswoman for a German computer company said to be interested in buying the Vermont plant also would not comment.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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