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IBM and Poughkeepsie: Partners in Decline

Updated on February 24, 2017
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Jack is currently a volunteer at the Westchester County Archives. Jack has worked at IBM for over 28 years on museums and libraries.

Introduction

I recently had a chance to drive to Poughkeepsie, NY for a day trip. I used to live in that area 30 years ago. Now, it is totally different than what I remembered it. Reading about the conditions of a town in the news is one thing, but seeing it first hand is quite something else. I am deeply affected by what I witnessed and felt I must write about it.

- Feb. 2017

Background

I am an IBMer and worked for IBM from 1974-2002. During that time, I worked in various divisions but mainly in the Hudson Valley region of Fishkill, Kingston and Yorktown Heights, NY.

When I worked in the Kingston IBM plant back in the 1980s, I lived in Hyde Park, NY and commuted. It was a beautiful drive up the Taconic Parkway and life was good. When I transferred to the Research Division, I relocated to Yorktown Heights. Over the years, I lost track of some of my colleagues back in Kingston. In the ensuing years, IBM went through many downsizings and turmoil, which had dramatic effects not only on the employees but the towns and cities where they lived.

Poughkeepsie is one such city that was essentially an IBM town. There were 8000 employees at IBM Main plant located in the town of Poughkeepsie. Today there is less than 4000. This downturn at IBM had a devestating effect on downtown Poughkeepsie. To be fair, it is not only due to IBM alone. The downtown area of Poughkeepsie was always a little seedy part of the city and contained a high population of minorities and the poor. The migration of businesses out of downtown was years in the making. Many businesses relocated to strip malls and shopping centers outside of the downtown area.

My recent drive though downtown was eye-opening. Almost all store fronts were boarded up. A small number of businesses are still active and open. Some buildings downtown were abandoned and boarded up. Windows were knocked out and signs of destruction noticeable. I wondered to myself, how could this happen? What caused this downward spiral of a city with a long history. Located right off the Hudson river, 80 miles north of NYC, Poughkeepsie is a city of 32,000 people. One of its claims to fame is the inventor of Scrabble, the popular word game. It is also home to the IBM main plant that builds all the mainframe computers that power industries worldwide. During WWII, IBM converted its plant into a munitions factory.

Poughkeepsie is the home of Marist College and Vassar College, two of the elite liberal arts school in the Northeast. Just up Route 9 is the home of FDR, now a museum in Hyde Park. Also home of the CIA, not that one but the Culinary institute of America, where many top chefs are trained.

Main Street

IBM Revenues

A Decline Long in the Making

The city of Poughkeepsie has experienced the decline over many years. It probably started with the opening of the Gallaria Mall, which drew many shoppers to the suburbs. Parking was easier and the the new stores and food courts were attractive. Downtown was just not competitive.

With the decline of IBM and various downsizings of personnel, people relocated and some businesses suffered losses. However, I never imagined a city going down so much so fast. A project such as Walk Over The Hudson, a few years back, revitalized an abandoned railroad bridge. It attracted people from the surrounding towns to come and walk and shop and have meals. It was a boost to the local economy. I guess it was not enough.

Still, you have to wonder, what else is going on here? What events led to this decline beyond the misfortunes of an American corporation?

Glory Days

How to Make a Comeback?

A while ago, I came across a story about how Zappos's CEO, Tony Hsieh, revitalized downtown Las Vegas by moving his company headquarters there. It created a new environment for startups and restaurants that changed the whole scene there. Why can't it be done here in Poughkeepsie?

There are many successful start ups in NYC. The rent is expensive and congestion and traffic are a daily grind. It would be ideal for some to relocate here and help it recover as a city in decline. All it takes is one company to reverse the trend. It may not be overnight, but within a few short years, I can see the city of Poughkeepsie returning to its former glory.

Zappos Headquarter, Las Vegas Downtown

Summary

I guess any action must start with awareness. It takes awareness by some that a problem exists. Next, it takes someone with vision to change that downward trend. Finally, it takes people who care about their community to try and make a difference.

This hub is the first step by bringing awareness to one and to all. If you care about your city, your neighbors, and your local merchants, start a revolution and help save Poughkeepsie NY.

© 2017 Jack Lee

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