I popped around to Luther Forest the other day, in Saratoga County, to have a look at the construction site of the much-ballyhooed GlobalFoundries computer-chip factory, and, though I failed to get a walking tour, I was able to see enough from the asphalt periphery to make me as enthusiastic about this project as I will probably ever be, which is not very.
As recently as June, “this was just a forest,” the construction director told a Gazette reporter the previous day, with what I gather was pride, and so I remember myself from earlier visits.
Yes, hundreds of acres of mere forest on up-and-down land, with brush, squirrels, birds and such rubbish, and look at it now — bulldozed as flat as you please and bristling with steel pilings, fortified with concrete walls, rumbling with oversized trucks.
Gorgeous, no? Heartwarming, no?
Yes, if you are an economic developer with a horizon of 25 years, which is the life-expectancy of the monstrous factory (the size of four Walmart supercenters) that is going up. After that, who knows what will become of it? Maybe it will be a low-rent industrial park, maybe it will just be abandoned.
Actually, according to a technology consultant who a couple of years ago gave a pep talk on this project to a convention of planners in Saratoga Springs, “the useful direct impact” of a chip factory like this one is only about 10 years. “By then it’s totally depreciated,” he said, meaning the owners could be expected to just run it into the ground, which did not, however, seem to faze any of the alleged planners.
The owners? That would be the government of Abu Dhabi, the wealthiest of the United Arab Emirates, which last year took the original builder, AMD, off the hook by buying a 55 percent stake in the enterprise and renaming it.
If it hadn’t been for that, “I wouldn’t touch [AMD stock] with a f—-in’ 10-foot pole,” one of the parties charged in a recent insider-trading scandal said last year in a wiretapped phone conversation, according to an FBI affidavit.
But anyway, that’s who we are subsidizing with our $1.2 billion worth of gifts and tax breaks to make construction possible — the government of Abu Dhabi, whose citizens, afloat on a sea of oil, enjoy an average net worth of $17 million even without our help.
The public subsidy works out to approximately $1 million for each of 1,200 or so jobs that are expected to be created at this factory, though I hasten to explain there is no guarantee of any such employment level.
The contract that AMD signed with our state’s economic development agency allowed an escape for what it called force majeure, and force majeure was defined to include not only floods and earthquakes but also any “material, substantial and adverse change in market conditions.”
So the plant will simply employ as many people as it needs.
That might be 1,200, it might be more, or it might be less. It will certainly not be the 10,000 that was touted for many years by the Saratoga Economic Development Corp. as it tried to sell this project.
Isn’t $1 million in public money a bit steep to employ one person for 10 or possibly 25 years? Wouldn’t it be cheaper and more protective of natural resources just to put that person on the dole? I mean, even if you gave him $50,000 a year, you could carry him for 20 years and you would still have the forest.
He would spend that money the same as if he had earned it, so the economy would get the same multiplying benefit that is so lovingly projected by consultants. He would buy his lottery tickets and his snow tires, he would take out a mortgage, he would get his teeth filled, and the merchants and bankers of Saratoga would profit just the same.
But of course we all understand, despite the gushing about job creation, that unemployment is no great problem in Saratoga County, and there are certainly not 1,200 people capable of doing skilled computer-chip work lollygagging around Broadway in Saratoga Springs now, out of work and waiting for an opportunity.
We’re not really talking about supporting poor unemployed dudes. We’re talking about bringing new people in, though no one ever says that out loud. New people to take out mortgages and buy tires and help us all to prosper.
Growth is what we mean. Mow down the forests, pave over the land, build more places where more people can work. Then go home and watch a documentary on our new flat-screen televisions about the self-destructive deforestation taking place somewhere else in the world.
With those thoughts in mind, I looked out over the denuded construction site the other day and tried my best to be enthusiastic, but as in so many of my endeavors, I came up short.