COLUMBIA — Residents applauded the decision to bring IBM to Columbia while denouncing the method that brought it here at a special City Council meeting Monday night.
"First, I'd like to say that I think it's wonderful that IBM is coming to Columbia," Joan Beard, a retired educator, said at the meeting. But Beard questioned the process the city took in courting IBM, asking if the city was held "hostage" in negotiations with IBM.
"Where's the transparency?" Beard asked at the end of her presentation.
In response to queries about the transparency of the process, Mike Brooks, president of Regional Economic Development Inc., said it was just good business.
"How many companies tell their competitors what they are going to do?" Brooks said when questioned about IBM's need for confidentiality during the negotiation process.
If REDI or other city officials had shared news on the deal with IBM, competing cities might have been able to sweeten their offers and undermine Columbia. In addition, the confidentiality of the proceedings allowed Columbia and IBM to talk business, Brooks said.
"In some ways, this is the city's business," Brooks said.
In response to community outcry over the lack of transparency, Second Ward Councilman Jason Thornhill questioned REDI's use of secrecy, asking Brooks if this was a common way of conducting negotiations.
"I have never worked on a project where confidentiality was not a key part of the decision," Brooks replied.
First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz also questioned the secrecy surrounding IBM's entrance into the community.
"It seems like there's a culture of nondisclosure, of confidentiality," Sturtz said.
As the relationship with IBM moves forward, Sturtz asked if Columbia could expect a more transparent atmosphere from the company, including receiving a head count of employees for each IBM location in the U.S. Sturtz cited IBM's policy of only disclosing tallies of its employees worldwide, instead of releasing numbers for an individual facility. Not having those numbers could make it difficult for the city to accurately gauge the number of jobs created by the company in Columbia.
The council voted unanimously to approve the deal with IBM, with many lauding the amount of money the deal is expected to bring to the community.
IBM is projected to bring up to $660,000 in sales tax revenue when fully staffed, as well as an additional $700,000 in property tax revenue by 2014, Brooks said.
In addition to the monetary benefits, the IBM negotiations have also brought Columbia quite a bit of media coverage, Brooks said.
"We've had some of the best exposure you can possibly buy," Brook said, noting that this exposure was free of charge.
Council members also praised the work of those involved in the IBM negotiations.
"We want to thank all the folks who worked on this," Sturtz said. "Potentially, as we all know, this is a fantastic thing for the city."
Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe echoed Sturtz's sentiments, praising IBM's entrance in Columbia.
"I think they're going to be a great, contributing member of the community," Hoppe said.