The Bunny runs down in St. Albans

“Keeps on going…?”

We had no sooner emerged, dazed and happy, from the election, than Franklin County got hit with a blast of really bad news.  

A  60-year+ economic fixture in St. Albans Town, Energizer announced Thursday that it will soon be closing its doors in the Town and laying off all 165 employees.  

Tim Smith, executive director of the Franklin County Industrial Development Corporation believes the county will not be seriously impacted by the closing, given that projected economic growth includes a planned expansion of Mylan with 150 new jobs; but the announcement seems to challenge a popular conservative talking point, that tax breaks are the best way to retain quality investment in Vermont.  

According to Fred Kenney, executive director of the Vermont Economic Progress Council:

In 2005, the Vermont Economic Progress Council provided $2.5 million in tax credits over five years to Energizer, making the credits contingent on adding jobs and making capital improvements to the plant in St. Albans…Kenney said the level of employment at the plant has been dropping steadily in recent years.

Mr. Kenney further states that, despite Energizer’s possible non-compliance with the terms of those tax breaks, the state might not even be successful if it sought to reclaim the lost revenue.

Due to decreased demand for the type of specialty battery produced at the St. Albans facility, the company is downsizing; and even though those batteries will continue to be produced in Malaysia, by workers earning Malaysian salaries, they have no further use for their St. Albans workers.

Many were the times that Governor Douglas harped on how we would lose IBM if we didn’t do this or that for them (insert “keep Vermont Yankee going”; “build the Circ Highway,” etc.) regardless of the environmental consequences; and many were the times he scolded that Vermont is “bad for business.”

It appears, in this case that, having enjoyed a sweet tax deal for several years, Energizer would still prefer to build their batteries in Malaysia, where minimum wages have just been raised for workers to $297. per month.

I am sure that, if St. Albans workers could live on Malaysian wages, the tax break might have succeeded in buying Energizer’s loyalty as it was supposed to do.  But as things now stand, Vermont is just out a whole bunch of money it could have used to retrain the 165 displaced workers.

When IBM finally raises its skirts and exits Vermont, it will not be because we haven’t bought enough of its loyalty through corporate blackmail.  It will be to take its Vermont operations to a distant land where workers earn pennies on the U.S. dollar.

What will it take to get policy makers to realize that we cannot compete on the “bottom line” unless we are all prepared to live like third world laborers?  

We need instead to compete on “quality of life” measures, like universal healthcare, exceptional schools, a clean and beautiful natural environment, superb local foods, and a creative and exciting cultural milieu.  

That takes public investment, which we cannot make if we become the bargain basement for corporate location shopping.

About Sue Prent

Artist/Writer/Activist living in St. Albans, Vermont with my husband since 1983. I was born in Chicago; moved to Montreal in 1969; lived there and in Berlin, W. Germany until we finally settled in St. Albans.

5 thoughts on “The Bunny runs down in St. Albans

  1. At a fraction of the wages they made before.

    Welcome to the new global economy. Sure does suck unless you’re at the top of the heap.  

  2. The prevailing wage with which America competes is $1/hour for a 12 hour day, 7 days a week.

    So the Conservatives not only expect, but are intentionally creating the American working environment where making $84 a month is good pay!  That is what Republicans want for American workers.

    No amount of corporate blackmail can make up those kind of wage savings!  Imagine how much more money the CEO can pocket when they don’t have to pay their employees.

    No wonder Republicans want to eliminate the minimum wage!

    Amazon is doing that right now, which is why I will never, ever buy anything from Amazon.

  3. … that they’ve been cutting their domestic workforce steadily for the last several years. IBM never formally announces big layoffs because they want to avoid bad headlines; instead, the news dribbles out bit by bit.

    But IBM’s American staff has fallen by about 40% in recent years. And one tech-business observer says that’s just the beginning of IBM’s plan to rapidly grow corporate profits:

    The primary method for accomplishing this feat, according to the plan, will be by reducing US employee head count by 78 percent in that time frame.

    Reducing employees by more than three quarters in three years is a bold and difficult task. What will it leave behind?  Who, under this plan, will still be a US IBM employee in 2015? Top management will remain, the sales organization will endure, as will employees working on US government contracts that require workers to be US citizens. Everyone else will be gone. Everyone.

    Remember this when IBM exits Vermont, and the Republicans scream about our business-unfriendly atmosphere.  

  4. This one is beyond Vermont’s capability to deal with, unfortunately. We can tidy up the place and educate the workforce all we want, but that still doesn’t beat a buck an hour.

    What we need is to ditch NAFTA and GATT and negotiate bilateral trade agreements that are actually beneficial for U.S. workers.

    Part of that would be a sweat labor tariff. Figure out the advantage that a country gets by allowing its workers to be exploited and tack that percentage on, plus a few percent.

    We could also consider an environmental tariff. China gains an advantage by letting manufacturers dump toxic waste wherever.

    After campaign finance reform.

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