Here in IBM country, the conversation inevitably turns to the company that employs the people, pays the taxes, sustains the businesses and supports the charities.
But the chatter today isn’t about the latest United Way contribution record, or factory expansion, or golf tournament at the IBM Country Club. Instead the talk is blunt and grim.
As part of its worldwide restructuring, IBM is cutting 6,000 of 21,500 jobs this year at plants in East Fishkill and two nearby towns, Poughkeepsie and Kingston. That’s on top of buyouts and early retirements that pared employment by 3,000 in 1992.
Even more traumatic, the new cuts include layoffs, ending IBM’s esteemed cradle-to-grave care. The first notices to workers deemed “surplus” are rumored for this week. The ripple effects are profound.
Schools are preparing to counsel shaken students whose parents may lose their jobs. IBM is offering job retraining. Landlords are scrambling to lease hundreds of thousands of square feet of abandoned office space. Homeowners are slashing prices as properties flood the market. Town leaders are trimming budgets.
“There’s an awful lot of anxiety in the area. It’s not just IBMers. It’s moving through the community because of the impact of IBM,” said Father Dominick Lagonegro at St. Columba Catholic Church, who is leading a support group to help residents brace for an uncertain future.
It’s difficult to overstate the influence of International Business Machines Corp. in the Hudson Valley, a mostly exurban landscape of rolling hills, apple orchards, dramatic river views and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s manse.
At the end of 1992, IBM accounted for more than 15% of the 113,300 jobs in Dutchess County, home to two of the three area plants. Sixty percent of the county’s manufacturing is tied to IBM.
Thanks largely to IBM’s high-skilled, well-paying jobs, the county’s median household income of $42,000 in 1990 exceeded New York State’s by $9,100. Until recently, the county unemployment rate was about half the state level.
IBM’s overhaul is especially wrenching because the local plants represented its soul--the mainframe computers that revolutionized the computer industry in the 1960s but have come to symbolize the company’s decline as new technologies erode market share.
IBM opened its first factory in Poughkeepsie in 1941 to make arms for World War II. The plant built typewriters in the 1940s and rolled out the first electronic data processing machine--a computer--in 1953.
Local populations grew and prospered with IBM. East Fishkill, a 53-square-mile town that dates to the early 1700s, surged from 2,565 residents in 1950 to 22,101 in 1990.
But while IBM has been the growth engine, it has also been the Achilles’ heel. County officials admit IBM’s presence fostered complacency. Many locals, cherishing their rural hideaway, fought development that could spoil the environment, clog roads and crowd recreational facilities. IBM was enough.
“We basked in their benevolence for many years,” said Bill Lavery, a real estate agent facing a steadily growing inventory of properties. “Many people thought it would never change.”