Global CIO: IBM Iowa's Birthday: IBM Gets $52M, But What Does Iowa Get?

IBM promised 1,300 jobs for incentives of $52M but isn't releasing hiring figures. That's not right.
"IBM's expectations for the Dubuque project have been exceeded," said Diane Diggelmann, senior location executive for IBM in Dubuque, in an e-mail to the TH through IBM's communication division.

Diggelmann said there are no changes in the company's rollout plans, and the IBM partnership with local and state leaders has enhanced the recruitment effort. Rumors of recruiting problems are unfounded, she said, adding that a high percentage of the candidates hired have come from the tri-state area.

Okay—so why doesn't IBM just take all the mystery out of this and tell the good people of Dubuque and Iowa where things stand with hiring? It's not like this is a request for IBM to post all of its business plans and intellectual capital on a public website—rather, this seems like the sort of information that Iowans have a right to see in return for their $52 million, and that IBM should be eager to share as an ongoing display of its good-faith efforts in negotiating aggressively and honestly when seeking out locations for expansion.

This is a subject I've been following for about a year, since I first heard of IBM's Dubuque effort along with parallel plans from Hewlett-Packard to open similar global service centers in small towns: Conway, Arkansas and Rio Rancho, New Mexico. These are terrific developments for each of those communities—well, potentially terrific developments. It all depends on the hiring that happens, the quality of work that's done in the centers, and the business value generated by those centers: are they core to the future business operations of IBM and HP, or are they tactical and short-term P.R. moves?

As I wrote in column called Global CIO: HP And IBM To Add 4,000 U.S. Jobs In Three Small Towns on Sept. 2:

"Within the next 12 months, more than 1,000 people will be hired by two of the world's most-admired companies to support global clients of HP and IBM. Over the next few years, that figure could approach a total of about 4,000 new jobs in the communities of Dubuque, Iowa; Conway, Arkansas; and Rio Rancho, New Mexico. That is fabulous news, and we can all hope that a couple years from now HP and IBM will be so impressed by the work being done in those locations that they decide to open several more around the U.S.

"And if they do, I hope those two great companies will practice more vigorously the transparency they strive to provide for their global clients, and offer detailed breakdowns of the tradeoffs between communities desperate for jobs and private enterprises looking to provide the highest possible services at competitive costs.

"In the meantime, here's a sampling of comments from officials in Dubuque, Conway, and Rio Rancho. And while I care a whole lot more about the individuals who will be competing for these jobs than I do for the bureaucrats working the levers, it's just about impossible not to be touched by the empassioned intensity in these voices so eager to bring jobs and stability and perhaps even prosperity to their communities.

"And that, I think, is why I'm a bit ambivalent about what could be viewed as unconditionally wonderful news: because at stake here is more than just some haggling over price, or the specs of a product, or the elements of a business process. No, what is at play here is the livelihood and the dignity and the desperate hopes of individuals—4,000 of them—who deserve better than to be deployed as front-line players in a game in which neither they nor we know what the real score is. "

C'mon, IBM—you demand that your customers receive extensive transparency in their dealings with you, and that's one of the reasons they value you so highly. And I'd contend that since Iowa and Dubuque gave you $52 million in incentives, that positions them as a customer of sorts as well—and they least they deserve is a public airing of the types of jobs being generated by that $52 million.

You've set extremely high standards for yourself and your dealings with customers and partners, IBM, and you have enlisted the people of Iowa in general and Dubuque in particular as very close partners and, in some cases, employees. So now, with the public having put up not only $52 million in incentives but also considerable trust in you as a strategic partner, it's time for you to disclose the Dubuque hiring figures. Because transparency is more than a concept.


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GlobalCIO Bob Evans is senior VP and director of InformationWeek's Global CIO unit.

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