At the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Buckhead Thursday, senior executives from top corporations around the country gathered for a two-day program called the "Strategic Outsourcing Conference." As its subtitle, "Capitalizing on Opportunities in the New Global Landscape" suggests, the sessions focused on how businesses can gain from offshoring, or sending work overseas.
Meanwhile, in a conference room in a legislative office building across from the Capitol downtown, a mix of state labor leaders and legislators met to decry the very idea, and the people behind it.
Those proponents of outsourcing "should be ashamed of themselves," said Charlie Flemming, president of the Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council of the AFL-CIO, for "having the gall to strategize . . . in our backyard . . ."
Labor officials and political representatives cited state and national jobless figures and argued that American companies can't keep sending work abroad to save costs and boost profitability.
Rep. Virgil Fludd, (D-Tyrone) said that if U.S. jobs continue to be outsourced, there won't be any workers left to buy the goods and services produced by the companies doing the outsourcing.
Ton Heijmen, senior advisor of outsourcing/offshoring for The Conference Board, the business organization that held the event at the Ritz, downplayed such concerns.
With outsourcing, "There will be job disruption, no question," he said. "But not as prevalent as one thinks," with actual U.S. jobs lost overseas making up a relatively small percentage of the total number of jobs created and destroyed nationwide annually.
The nature of outsourcing is changing, too, he said. Customer service and information technology remain major work categories that are sent offshore, but analysis, engineering, product development and research are also moving.
And, while cost saving remains a key reason to outsource, another purpose is to tap into highly-skilled and experienced talent in other countries. Companies, he said, are increasingly concerned with finding the next generation of talent.
Among the companies represented on the published list of expected conference attendees were Atlanta's UPS, Coca-Cola, SunTrust and Georgia-Pacific.
Labor leaders said they held their press event specifically to protest the outsourcing conference, but they did not organize a demonstration outside the hotel, which they repeatedly described as "plush," "expensive" and "ritzy." They said they had planned for some Georgia workers who had lost their jobs to outsourcing to attend their media event, but the workers did not show.
Fludd and Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta) talked about the possibility of state legislation being introduced that would provide incentives to companies keeping jobs in Georgia instead of outsourcing them to other countries. But they and the labor officials acknowledged that such legislation might have a difficult time getting passed.
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