Speakers including GlobalFoundries CEO Sanjay Jha said Essex Junction remained an important manufacturing site because of the “perseverance” of the employees through changes that have occurred over those six decades.
“This organization, this site, has been through multiple ups and downs, multiple different versions of itself, and it’s evolved multiple times and what it has done is innovated every single time to become the next thing which is valuable to the industry,” Jha said in front of an outdoor crowd of hundreds of employees and dignitaries.
Two years ago, GlobalFoundries bought IBM. Today, there are approximately 2,800 employees in Essex Junction. At the peak of IBM in the 1990s, the company had more than 8,000 employees at the Vermont site.
Throughout the past few decades, public officials and Vermonters have worried the company might move out of Vermont completely, with politicians and company officials at times claiming the state was unfriendly to businesses. For example, IBM long sought to have construction completed on the Circumferential Highway, a proposed ring road for Chittenden County that has never been built.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., alluded to those concerns as he applauded the innovation and patents developed by talented IBM workers. He said the Essex Junction workers were why the state continually ranked first or second in the country per capita on patent registrations.
“I’ve seen times of great optimism. I’ve seen times of concern. I think I’ve seen times of concerned optimism,” said Leahy, who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
He added that some of the contracts for GlobalFoundries come before his committee.
“I brag about you. And it’s easy to brag about you,” Leahy said.
The senior senator recalled days dealing with strong-willed CEO Louis Gerstner, who ran IBM from 1993 to 2002, and invoked the memory of Thomas Watson, who brought IBM to Vermont.
Security was tight at the facility with guests being escorted to and from the outdoor event. One project at the site, Trusted Foundry, involves providing a secure supply chain for chips for national defense purposes.
Gov. Phil Scott lauded the company’s contributions, including environmental efforts. He said a recent award he gave the company was for environmental achievements including a 180,000 gallon reduction in chemical use. While the company has won numerous environmental awards, it is also one of the largest emitters of toxic chemicals in New England, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Others spoke of the contributions employees made to the community and the the significant positive impact the company has had on the local economy.
Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., talked about the importance of work and praised the company’s dedication to customer service and quality.
“Thousands of Vermonters have worked here. Thousands of patents and intellectual property created that has enhanced the world we live in. And you and the people who came before you are part of it,” Welch said.
Welch spoke of dysfunction in Washington, D.C., and said the workers in Essex Junction showed the value of cooperation over confrontation.
Welch said the GlobalFoundries and IBM employees before showed the same production efficiency of Vermont farmers who have to carve out a living in sometimes difficult places.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., was unable to attend and sent a representative from his office.