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Spin Control

Wed., Feb. 25, 2009, 1:43 p.m.

Bye-bye, Itronix

I have an Itronix laptop, one of the really rugged ones designed for use by the military and other occupations that are out in the rain, snow, muck and sand. It's called a Go Book, and I admire it for its simplicity, and its ability to take a beating.

Technically, it's the newspaper's laptop, and I use it only on out-of-town assignments. But it's so old (read slow), and heavy (it has a titanium case) that no one else much cares for it, so I'm the only one who checks it out from the supply of laptops.The newspaper got it when preparing to embed a reporter and photographer with a local Army Reserve unit scheduled for Iraq. The media's Macs and IBMs were being fried by the dust, so a computer that was used by Army Rangers seemed like a good investment in 2003. And it was local.

The Go Book is hopelessly archaic by most standards now, but I'm sentimental about it.  I used to think about it whenever reading a press release about how one of our honorable congresspersons had added a few million dollars for Itronix to the gazillion dollar Defense Appropriations bill, or accompanying one of those congresspersons on a tour of Itronix's Valley factory.

In the days when my Go Book was pretty new, Itronix worked the Congressional delegation like champs, and money was added to different budgets so different military commands could buy whiz-bang things that Itronix was developing. Members of the delegation, accompanied by staff, would drop by to see the whiz-bang things in person, sometimes before the vote, sometimes after. The message was always clear: Best technology for the military, good jobs for the community.

Spokane is kind of a mid-tech place, for the most part, and congresspersons loved to highlight a high-tech success. The Itronix plant could draw them like bumble bees to lilacs in late May...

...They'd praise Itronix for the whiz-bang stuff it was creating for the military, and the good jobs it was creating in Washington.

Given that history, it seems strange that, thus far, Itronix's announcement that it will close that Valley facility -- laying off more than 300 from those good jobs, and moving a few dozen to Florida -- has generated not a word from Washington's congressional delegation, past or present.

Outrage? Nada. Concern? Zip. Disappointment? Zilch. I mean, it's not like Boeing is shutting down the 777 line, but still...

It's not the  job of Congress, of course, to tell General Dynamics, which bought this offshoot of Itron in 2005, not to move those jobs to Florida. Heck, it won't even be the job of Congress to tell General Dynamics not to move those jobs to Taiwan or Singapore or Bangladesh or some other "off shore" location if the company decides to do that in one year or five...although maybe they'll make it uncomfortable from a tax standpoint.

Although Itronix wasn't among the region's biggest political "players", then-CEO Tom Turner ponied up $4,200 to be in on a sit-down with Dick Cheney when the veep came to Spokane in '06. Itronix execs contributed across the political spectrum, Republicans like George Nethercutt and Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Democrats like Patty Murray.

So now General Dynamics will design and test that whiz-bang technology in Florida. Not clear whether the Washington delegation will still feel the same urgency to add lines to the defense budget to help them out. General Dynamics is a big player, nationally, with lots of lobbyists and a whole stable of congresspersons, so they probably don't need the same amount of assistance that little Itronix did -- although with the general opprobrium attached to earmarks it's possible even a big player will need all the help it can get.

So maybe the Washington delegation will still be willing to slip lines into the defense budget, for old times' sake. Hard to say, because, as previously mentioned, the loss of 300 jobs in the Valley has been gone generally unremarked upon by Itronix's friends in Congress.

Of course, people in Washington, D.C., are pretty busy these days, what with trying to figure out what to do about the economy.

It's pretty bad, you know...folks are losing jobs, and they're trying to do something about that.

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The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.