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Keep the focus on business expansion

Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - Updated: 7:38 AM

Appeasement. Perhaps that is the best word to describe Gov. Andrew Cuomo's strategy to stave off more IBM job losses in the Hudson Valley. As laudable and important as that goal is, the governor's recent announcement is a short-term victory for that area. An agreement will apparently provide a reprieve for IBM workers, and such a notion is surely better than seeing more misery and layoffs.

Cuomo's sweeping accord with Big Blue touches other areas of the state, including Albany and Buffalo, and is likely to have far more staying power in those places. The Hudson Valley must brace for these changes, though more details must emerge before the possible ramifications can be truly and thoroughly assessed.

The state does say the deal will preserve jobs in the Hudson Valley and expand the company's high-tech footprint in New York. That last point is telling. During the past decade or so, Dutchess County has been losing high-tech jobs, including those at IBM, while the state and IBM have partnered on a major investment at the State University of New York College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering in Albany. The nanocenter in Albany in recent years has branched out to include research and development facilities in other parts of upstate -- in Utica; Canandaigua, Ontario County; and Buffalo.

This latest deal will see New York open a tech center in downtown Buffalo, with IBM committed to being its first tenant and bring 500 jobs there.

The state says IBM also is committed to keeping at least 3,100 high-tech jobs in the Hudson Valley through 2016, but that should provide only a level comfort to the Hudson Valley. For instance, it's unclear what the pledge means in the context of IBM's overall operations in the area. The company employs about 7,000 people in Dutchess County. But there were layoffs last year and another round looming, and the governor's announcement didn't provide a breakdown of what jobs would be saved -- and what it means for those positions not protected by the agreement.

While IBM does not comment on staffing levels at individual sites, the state should insist on such disclosure in any tax-incentive deals awarded to IBM but has failed to do so.

In broader terms, the governor's announcement solidifies the view that the Hudson Valley has to move along parallel tracks. One is in stark recognition that IBM still is the largest employer in Dutchess County by far, and anything that ebbs the flow of layoffs for a time helps the area. But the other track involves a cold-dose recognition that IBM has been reducing jobs in the area for years and that trend is likely to continue.

Other strategies that build on the area's strengths in the biotech, farming and tourism industries, seek to lure other high-tech companies and aid small businesses and start-ups must be the focus.

-- The Poughkeepsie Journal


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