Four thousand high-tech workers at an internet facility near Washington's Dulles Airport have seen their stock [retirement] portfolios shrink drastically as their employer, WorldCom, sinks toward likely bankruptcy. VOA's Barry Wood visited a coffee shop in Ashburn, Virginia to get local reaction to the financial scandal that is consuming America's second biggest telecommunications company.
At the Ashford Starbucks, Jon Hosford, dressed in tee shirt and shorts, sips coffee as he works at his laptop computer. He is connected to the internet with a personal communicator and simultaneously does other business on his cell phone. Mr. Hosford, in his 30s, has worked in high-tech all his life.
What does he think of the near collapse of WorldCom, only two weeks after it admitted to cheating on its financial statements? "The whole internet explosion of the 90s probably fostered a carelessness in accounting methods and gave a lot of people the idea that you could fling a lot of money around. And what you're seeing now is that some of that is coming back around," he said.
Mr. Hosford, who runs his own technology consulting firm, worries about the WorldCom employees who are certainly much poorer than they were and who may lose their jobs. "We're in the high-tech business. WorldCom is in the high-tech business. Business is really bad right now. So, in a macro-sense, if in fact they're laying off technical people, I'm upset about it. Because those people are going to compete with my people," he said.
Indeed, all of Ashburn worries about WorldCom, which along with AOL Time Warner, is the mainstay of the local economy. Five hundred WorldCom people have already been laid off and more layoffs are coming. People worry that with less money pumped into the local economy, home prices could decline and other businesses may have to lay off workers.
Mr. Hosford believes that longer-term the WorldCom facility at Ashford will be all right, even if it passes to a new owner. "It will be fine. Because this country will not surrender the internet. And it will not surrender a facility and a company and an operation that right now handles half of the world's internet traffic," he said. "It simply will not happen. So those people will have jobs. And who sits in the corner office and gets to steal the big bucks may change but nobody is going to permit that to disintegrate."
The facility in question, just one kilometer away, is the WorldCom Northern Virginia operations center, a complex of modern low-slung buildings that house the company's internet backbone. It is the telecommunications heart of a company that is dominant in internet data traffic worldwide.