Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Will IBM Stay In Vermont if Yankee Leaves?

Liar Liar Two Years Ago?

IBM's wafer fab plant employs thousands of people in Essex Junction. It is the biggest private employer in the state. If Vermont Yankee is voted off the island, will IBM sail away?

Today, Vermont Public Radio (VPR) described this issue in a short article: Shumlin Works to Change Image. VPR has these quotes from about two years ago. John Dillon of VPR reports:

(Dillon) The moment was classic Shumlin. And although it happened two years ago, similar issues have come up in this campaign.
A lobbyist for IBM - the state's largest private employer - blasted Shumlin's proposal to force Vermont Yankee to cover the full cost of its decommissioning. John O'Kane, the IBM lobbyist, complained the bill would raise electric rates. Shumlin confronted him.
(O'Kane) "Money has time value, and you're changing the time."
(Shumlin) "We are not asking for the money. You're lying about that. We are not asking for the money. The bill says..."
(O'Kane) "Peter, that is.. You just called me a liar.."
(Shumlin) "I said you're not telling the truth about that, John."
(Dillon) Shumlin later apologized.

False Claims Today?

Shumlin apologized, but he hasn't learned his lesson.

Late last month, his group put out a press release saying that Dubie made false claims that IBM would leave if Vermont Yankee closed. "False Claims" is toned down a little from "You're lying about that."

Shumlin claiming someone is a liar is not really news. (Predictable statements are not news.) However, some of the fallout from his "false claims" press release is news.

IBM Might Leave?

In a highly-unusual move, the Commissioner of the Department of Public Service, David O'Brien, commented on the Shumlin press release. O'Brien wrote:

Further I have heard from IBM officials throughout my seven year tenure that their power costs are too high in Vermont and it has a profound affect on their ability to compete for work and retain or add jobs in Essex Jct. Specifically they have referenced the possible loss of VY as a major threat to their ability to attract capital investment from corporate and add jobs here in VT.

“I don’t think we’ve said anything about moving jobs specifically around the electricity goals,” Couture said. “There was nothing specific, or an ultimatum.”....Couture did say that increases in power costs could affect jobs.
As a former corporate employee, I recognize that this statement is as close to an ultimatum as corporations give. If a corporation is saying "no ultimatum" that means there is an ultimatum. (My opinion, at least.) Otherwise, the corporation would say something like: "IBM is committed to its facility in Essex Junction Vermont, and we expect to work with whatever electricity choices are made by the people of this great state." IBM didn't say that.

Corporations have to be very careful what they say, because everything they say can be taken as a promise. That's why corporate employees listen to the rumor mills, and business reporters have "sources" within the companies they cover. If you do listen to the PR people, you have to read between the lines. You have to think about what they don't say, as well as what they say.

Looks to me as if IBM might leave, O'Brien is right, and Dubie was not making "false statements."

More Analysis

Jack Harding, chairman of Vermont Tiger blog, did a thought-experiment about a rise in electricity rates would affect IBM. How much money is IBM likely to lose, and how many layoffs is it likely to have?. His post, IBM Unplugged, was posted both on Vermont Tiger and Vermont Digger blogs. Harding pointed out that a rise in electricity costs was likely to:
  • Lead to the layoff of about 400 employees at IBM Essex Junction
  • Wipe out IBM's world-wide energy cost savings advances
  • Perhaps cause IBM headquarters to pull the plug on the Essex Junction facility.
Harding concluded that Dubie was correct to be concerned. By the way, you might enjoy some of the comments on the Vermont Digger post. Especially the comments by Howard Shaffer and Willem Post, who have both been guest bloggers on this blog.

Fun with Layoffs

Well, not really. But I must recommend Art Woolf's tongue-in-cheek post End Supply, Stop Demand. Woolf suggests that we close down IBM for emitting ammonia. After all, if 1000 picocuries of tritium is the Worst Environmental Disaster in Vermont's History, according to Shumlin, what must all that ammonia represent? Vote both IBM and Vermont Yankee off the island! Stop demand and end supply!

Art Woolf is a very funny economist. (He's a professor at University of Vermont.) After I read his post, I laughed till I cried.

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