First Prize for Essay: Louise A. Kosta
|First Prize: Louise A. Kosta|
|Second Prize: Charles Olmstead|
|Third Prize: Dora Yzaguirre|
A Small Town Prospers From a New Technology, but Pays a Price
By: Louise A. Kosta
In 1970, I was a junior in college in Ohio, and my fiancé was a senior. Our school closed due to the unrest after the Kent State killings, so my fiancé didn’t get to attend a graduation ceremony.
He had majored in math in college, and had taken a job in a relatively new field-he would be a computer programmer at IBM in Endicott, New York. Working for IBM seemed like a good idea to both of us. We thought, if he didn’t like it, it wouldn’t hurt to have a couple years with IBM if he wanted to change companies. A few weeks after we came home from college, he and I made the long drive from Ohio to New York to move him into his new apartment.
Endicott was a nice little village, with IBM clearly a major employer. There was a huge factory right in town, but my fiancé’s office would be outside the town center. There were other factories, too—Endicott-Johnson Shoes had a factory there, and the paternalistic policies of EJ’s owners had formed Endicott into a little village of company-built homes, company –sponsored parks, and more.
The houses were big and close together, as in a city, and the streets were wide and tree-lined. Residents could walk to schools, churches, the library, parks, and shopping. The village was in the Susquehanna River valley, with rolling hills, rural areas and parks minutes away. There were lots of jokes about the weather ("Our rain festival lasts from January 1 to December 31!"), and the jokes were based on reality. Each winter brought severe snows and cold, and some summers brought torrential rains and flooding from hurricane activity. But springtime was beautiful, unfolding slowly over weeks, and the vivid fall foliage colors were breathtaking.
I had looked forward to marriage and my move to New York, which took
place in 1971, but heeding the joke that IBM means "I’ve
been moved," I didn’t count on staying for long. I was wrong!
We still live in the area, but things have changed drastically.
IBM’s presence in Endicott has shrunk over 11,000 to a few thousand employees. Endicott-Johnson Shoes closed its doors years ago. With these two major employers gone, the tax base has shrunk dramatically. Now the area is contending with low employment and tax increases. And there is a hidden legacy of the town’s earlier prosperity to contend with-lingering ground and water pollution caused by decades of chemical releases during manufacturing. Some residents whose families had worked for EJ and IBM now worry that their own health has been harmed by the chemicals that are percolating through the soil.
It’s still a beautiful area, and I’m glad I live here. But it never occurred to me in 1970 that the bright promise of computer technology would create such dislocations in the local economy, and such lasting problems with pollution. As the area struggles to re-invent itself in the 21st century, I hope the lessons learned in the last 35 years will be put to good use.