Press and Sun-Bulletin from Binghamton, New York on June 12, 2011 · 10
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Press and Sun-Bulletin from Binghamton, New York · 10

Binghamton, New York
Issue Date:
Sunday, June 12, 2011
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10A I press x sun-Bulletin IBM TURNS 100 Sunday, June 12, 2011 1 4? 8 1W 1A v V N3 . I V 1 J I A ) -up 1 i U GEORGE BASLER STAFF PHOTO 'I don't hate IBM, but I dislike what the company did to employees and retirees. I saw good friends get hurt. ' LEE CONRAD Longtime critic of the company's management and an organizer of AllianceIBM IBM Continued from Page 1A "Still, EJ was a local company that sold nationally," he added. "IBM was an international corporation. Watson never envisioned it as just a local company." At its height, IBM Endicott had roughly 11,000 employees. Add in IBM's facility in Owego, and the number went to 16,000. The focal points were the factory complex centered at North Street and McKinley Avenue, a research center in the Glendale section of the Town of Union and an Owego facility, now owned by Lockheed-Martin. IBM also employed hundreds of subcontractors and spawned benefits, such as a country club for employees. "Guys who worked for EJ loved EJ, but they wanted their sons to work for IBM," Smith said. "The pay scale was higher, and the chance for promotion better." Beyond jobs The company's impact on Endicott . and the wider Southern Tier went beyond jobs and the tax money it pumped into the community. IBM Endicott drew talented and educated people whose talents extended beyond their jobs to the wider community through involvement in local organizations and boards, said Kathy Utter, coordinator of the Endicott Visitors Center and Museum. "IBM was spe cial," she said. "A real cache accompanied saying 'I'm an IB-Mer' because it was so well known through-; out the country and the world." Added Smith: "He (Watson) took Endicott out of the local factory town category. "We were part of a national and international corporation, and had an identity beyond Endicott." The downside is that people became complacent and forgot the truism that nothing in life is sure except change, the county historian said. He doesn't blame IBM for this; he blames the community. "We allowed ourselves to become' dependent on the good graces of IBM and EJ," Smith said. "Then, as the world changed, we weren't prepared and started the blame game. But, I say, 'Guys, we did it to ourselves.' We thought the Cold War would go on forever. We thought mega companies would go on forever. We had forgotten how to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps." Maybe so, but IBM promoted this feeling of permanence through its public relations efforts and talks with employees, said former IBMer Lee Conrad, a longtime critic of the company's management and an organizer of the Johnson City-based AllianceIBM, a group that struggles to unionize IBM's current workforce. The belief started to crumble in the 1980s and accelerated in the 1990s when IBM began shedding jobs through retirement incentives and then layoffs. Conrad sees a clear demarcation point in the company's 100-year history. Older retirees remember the IBM of old with a sense of gratitude for employee, benefits and opportunity. More recent retirees "remember being kicked out," he said. Brian Frey, who is producing a documentary film on George F. Johnson and Thomas J. Watson for WSKG-TV, has seen the same split. If people's tenure at IBM ended in the 1970s and 1980s, they have fond memories, he said. Because of the corporation, they raised their children and benefited for an array of amenities, including the country club. Employees who left, or were asked to leave, from the mid-1990s on often feel they were denied the same opportunities IBMers had in the 1940s, '50s and '60s. "Still, they loved working for IBM," Frey said. "They felt deep pride even if it didn't end the way they wanted." Regret understanding The pride is well-deserved, said Utter as she sat in the Endicott Visitors Center. The IBM Archives website lists well over 100 products that were developed or manufactured at the Endicott facility. Important products spawned at the facility include the IBM 650 RAMAC, the IBM 709 electronic data processing machine, the IBM 1401 data processing system and some of the System370 processors. The IBM Schoolhouse in Endicott was also the central point for the company's education and training programs. Kerin Flannery, the current senior location executive in Endicott, said he is well aware of the company's deep roots here. He's. - CELEBRATE THE CENTENNIAL IBM Endicott will mark the centennial with two events th is week. Wednesday, employees will volunteer their time for public service. The service day is part of a worldwide effort by the corpora- tion in which IBMers will devote their time to service projects in Africa, Asia and South America, as well as the United States. Thursday, IBM Endicott will hold a centennial celebration at Binghamton University's Events Center, open to retirees and invited guests, but not to the general public. There will be two sessionsone in the morning and one in the afternoon. Both will feature displays and lectures. worked in Endicott for 32 years and disputes any notion IBM abandoned the Southern Tier community. While the corporation's footprint is certainly not as large as it once was, it is still one of the largest employers in the region and is stable, he said. (IBM does not release em ployee numbers, but independent observers put it at between 800 and 1,000.) The Endicott facility still does community outreach, and last year employees contributed $325,000 to local organizers, Flannery said. And the company does "cutting edge" research in 17 different business areas at the Endicott facility. "I don't see any reason, if we continue to diversify and continue a pattern of innovation, that we can't continue to be a thriving business in the Endicott area," Flannery said. Perhaps, but as Flannery acknowledged, the business model changed in the 1990s. "It was a very tough time for IBM Endicott," he said. "Endicott was in a bad position because of the way it was structured." Endicott was one of the main production sites for interconnect products, such as printed circuit boards and chip carriers. As IBM began outsourcing more of its production and moving jobs oversees, the local operation got hit, and hit hard. 1 1 V f. ml if 4 1 n - A . ". -mm 11 Iwwwnu !vX!y!v!v'v! Dr. Donald Seraphim worked in research and development from 1957 to 1986. He said it was exciting to work for IBM during that time. Seraphim, now 82 (inset), is shown working in 1963. That year, he was presented with a $1,000 award for four patent applications and three publications, all dealing with superconducting circuits and materials. Technology also moved to personal computers and away from large main frames that were the bread and butter of Endicott's operation. Today, competition is more intense, and the company's profit margin is no longer large enough to support the amenities of bygone days, Flannery said. Conrad sees it another way. "I don't hate IBM, but I dislike what the company did to employees and retirees. I saw good friends get hurt," he said. Other old IBMers voice more sympathy for the problems IBM faced. "They have to compete nationally and internationally. They have to do what they have to do," said Joseph Dahm, who worked in community relations from 1965 to 1991. Instead of anger, the retirees express a sense of regret as the company reaches its 100th anniversary. They realize just how fortunate they were to work for IBM when they did. Some wonder where the corporation will be 100 years from now. "I felt very lucky and proud," said Gosney, the Korean War vet who worked at IBM from 1954 to 1989, the last 12 years managing the country club. It was an exciting time to be in research and development, and IBM was a leader, said Donald Seraphim, 82, who worked in R&D from 1957 to 1986. The knowledge and developments at IBM-Endicott "seeded the rest of the company." IBM gave its employees freedom to flourish, said Alan Jones, 74, who worked in advanced technology and computer graphics from 1963 until 1990. "It meant a lot of taxes," he added with a laugh. More than that, the company permeated the community. "We thought it would go on forever," Jones said. "It never entered our minds that there would be a 'for sale' sign on the Glendale laboratory." Defining a legacy Another part of IBM Endicott's story is not remembered as fondly. That chapter is a toxic plume that has established Endicott as one of the best f t 1 dm 'I felt very lucky and proud.' JOHN GOSNEY A Korean War vet who worked at IBM from 1954 to 1989, the last 12 years managing the country club. MORE ON THE WEB Find more on IBM when you view this story on See dozens of IBM photos from the Press & Sun-Bulletin archives. Find an interactive picture show, accompanied by "Ever Onward," the IBM rally song performed in 1931. Record your memories and load historical photos at pressconnects.comibmstories Read stories and IBM recollections submitted by readers. L .. . - . 4 .... IS.- j i f if I "They have - nationally and internationally. They have fl , to do what they have to do." i JOSEPH DAHM - ' Z .- relations from - 1 1965 to 1991 f known examples of vapor intrusion, a phenomenon in which volatile chemicals creep from underground to the air of the buildings above. In 1980, IBM released a report to the state Department of Environmental Conservation that showed tens of thousands of gallons of chemicals had pooled under an area near Building 18. Fifteen years later, tests showed unacceptable levels of trichloroethylene in properties in the neighborhood around the Endicott facility. "The cleanup is ahead of schedule. We have no intention of backing away from continuing the work," Flannery said. Still, nearly 1,000 people, businesses, churches and other nonprofits have signed on to lawsuits against the company claiming harmful effects. And some people are bitter. "I was brought up that IBM was the best company in the world. Now I think differently," said Mark Bacon, who owns a coffee and flower shop on North Street in the plume area. He doesn't plan to celebrate the centennial. While the plume definitely is part of the story, it's unfair to say it defines IBM's impact on the community for the last 100 years, others said. The corporation's positive 100-year legacy lives on in the form of pension benefits and stock wealth that retirees pump into the community, Jones said. Then, there is the intangible impact that IBM has had on the region. The company created a community that focused on the importance of education and research, said Frey, whose documentary is planned for broadcast on WSKG in December. The foCus is still "very evident" today in the heightened participation by students in this area in math, science and technology. "It's a wonderful legacy," he said. "I don't think a community drops a culture like that as a company downsizes." The big question, of course, is whether it will last for another 100 years as older IBMers pass from the scene to be replaced by a generation who never knew first-hand the glory days of the Endicott facility. "Sometimes I wish I could have experienced it," said McGraw, the son of a former IBMer, as he and three other students reflected on what the company means for them. "It was something very special at that point, it would have been cool to be around to see it," added Ali Krowiak, 17. Now, the students said, people their age don't think much about IBM and certainly don't count on working there. Still, on balance, IBM's legacy is positive, and its continued presence in the community is a positive as well, Frey and others said. The centennial is definitely worth celebrating to mark a great era. Today the region's future depends on looking forward to new entrepreneurs who will create new, small companies not looking back, Frey noted. "We need to stop looking for another George F. Johnson, or Thomas J. Watson," he said. "That's not going to hap- REBECCA CATLETT STAFF PHOTO PeH a8aln-

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