At campaign's end, Trump takes a swipe at IBM

GOP nominee complains about offshore job losses, but not about automation

In Minnesota on Sunday, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump added IBM to the list of companies he criticizes for moving jobs offshore or to Mexico. Trump's line was a one sentence throwaway at the Twin Cities rally, but it may have resonated with this rally crowd.

In Rochester, Minn., IBM created a massive operation. In 1956, it broke ground on what would become a 32-building, 3.5-million-square-foot complex that employed 8,100 workers at its peak in 1991. It made punch card systems and later became widely known for its AS/400 system development work.

IBM created a stable workforce, and by 1988 was able to point out that the average Rochester employee was 39.5 years old and a 14-year IBM veteran. Nearly 40% of those workers were engineers or programmers, according to IBM's official history.

It's unclear how many work in Rochester today. IBM stopped breaking out its per-country hiring about six years ago, although a news report in May by The Post Bulletin put IBM's Rochester-area employment at about 2,500. In 2013, IBM told employees that it would start assembling servers in Guadalajara, Mexico, according to Minnesota Public Radio.

Trump has criticized firms such as Carrier and Ford for moving jobs out of the U.S., and at his Minnesota rally, offered up list of Minnesota firms that have shifted work out of the country, including IBM.

"IBM laid off 500 workers in Minneapolis and moved their jobs to India and various other countries," said Trump.

An IBM spokesperson called Trump's assertion incorrect, but didn't elaborate. Strictly speaking, Trump's remark -- which includes no time frame or any other details -- can't be pinned down. But that's not the point.

Trump wants to impose tariffs on goods manufactured offshore. The use of the H-1B visa has been raised by him as well in the context of these issues, but isn't related to his mention about IBM.

But what Trump hasn't discussed -- neither has Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, for that matter -- is an issue that Phil Fersht, the CEO and chief analyst at HFS Research, says is critical: automation.

"We've moved from shifting work overseas simply to eliminating it altogether," wrote Fersht, in a blog post Monday.

HFS estimates that automation will trim some 1.4 million global services jobs by 2021, which includes 770,000 low-skilled positions in the U.S.

"The bigger challenge facing both candidates is the impact of automation on U.S. jobs," he said.

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Patrick Thibodeau

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