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Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Corning sheds light on fiber optics at O'Hare

Mary Mapes Dodge (1907)

     I know I gripe too much about corporate reticence, far more than I should. Worst of all, I let myself get lulled into a dangerous complacency. For instance, not bothering to try reaching out to Corning when writing Monday's column, and then being punished by having Corning corporate all over me like a damp shirt for the better part of two days. Emails, phone conversations, requests to talk with my boss. I can honestly say that they made a bigger fuss than the past 20 companies I've gotten reaction from, combined. Though I'll grant them this: it works. Next time any subject mentions Corning, I'll leap to contact them.

     Life has its moments of odd synchronicity. We were eating dinner Monday evening on our white Corning USA plates — baked salmon, green beans, spinach pie — when Corning Inc. called.
     Officials at Corning Inc. — no longer making dinnerware, having shed that business in 1998 — were concerned about that day's column on Cristina and John Beran, who run a contracting business and were complaining about their difficulty bidding on a job installing Corning fiber-optic cables at the long-delayed O'Hare expansion project. Had I seen their email? No. Email goes astray. They forwarded it.
     Corning wants to "correct some inaccuracies." They seemed almost hurt at being ignored.
     "Unfortunately, we were not contacted beforehand to help fact check these claims and we want to ensure accuracy for your readers," they wrote, assuming a certain ex cathedra tone. They had truth in a bucket and were going to dole some out to me.
     I own the sin of not trying to contact them. While I was busy pestering the Chicago Department of Aviation — still mum, though it's our money — and the Inspector General, I shrugged off the idea of also tossing pebbles at the windows of Corning Optical Communications. I couldn't get Smucker's to comment on why their peanut butter is so delicious. What were the hopes that Corning would wade into Chicago procurement politics?
     After reading Corning's concerns, I volunteered to try to summarize them here.
     Their five-point correction begins:
     "Corning is the industry leader and inventor of many wireless connectivity solutions for large projects such as stadiums, airports, hotels, hospitals, and other high-density environments."
     No argument here. Nothing in my column suggests otherwise.
     The second reads:

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  1. I once had a catalog tear sheet for Chicago Faucets, which admittedly are good faucets, but at the bottom of the sheet were the word: "How to specify Chicago Faucets, without mentioning the name Chicago Faucets". It then went on about the specs requiring a faucet with a replaceable seat mounted to the cartridge. Which is why every publicly owned building around here always has Chicago Faucets on the sinks in their restrooms, instead of some other major brand, although that's changing, due many buildings using sensor faucets, due to Chicago Faucets being late to the game on making them.

    1. Yep. I learned this as a rookie reporter back in the stone age. A local police chief wanted Ford Crown Victorias (I told you it was the stone age), not Chevrolets or Dodges. So the bid specifications he submitted went something like, "Request for proposal on police-equipped automobile, 4.6-liter V8 engine, rear-wheel drive, wheelbase 114 to 115 inches, 4-speed automatic transmission," yada yada yada. The specification was helpfully supplied by the township's friendly Ford dealer. And hey, what do you know? Only one manufacturer made cars that fit those specifications, so guess who got the bid?

  2. I’m disappointed. Isn’t this worth further review? It smells but I can’t tell where it’s coming from. Perhaps the Watchdogs will pursue? Your instincts are probably better honed on this than mine but……..

  3. So, I should try Smuckers peanut butter?

  4. Corning was probably unwise in responding to the perceived allegations in the original column. Just makes it more likely that readers will associate the company with improper and oppressive behavior. In law school, we read a case in which Melvin Belli, the famous lawyer, sued a Florida newspaper for falsely printing that he had padded an hotel bill and skipped out on paying it. Although I knew in advance that he had won and that what the paper had printed about him was false, I kept wondering why a rich and famous guy like him would do such a thing.


  5. Okay, first of all, I was mildly surprised that you had not contacted Corning directly about any of this. Usually when some outfit appears even parenthetically in a Neil Steinberg column, you'll casually add that they were founded in 1897, have been manufacturing the same widgets in the same location for 47 years, the owner wears Size 11EE shoes and his dog's name is Ralph.

    In this case, I didn't get the sense that Corning was really the main culprit in this saga, or even a culprit at all; the majority of their responses are along the lines of, "Hey, we just make the stuff." Their last point, though, about offering a 25-year warranty, makes sense: They know their material is going to last (probably way beyond 25 years), but only if it's installed by people who are trained and certified in how to do it properly, with less reliance on duct tape and spackle. Offering a 25-year warranty is a way to win the city contract, but not if you're going to have to eat it in premature repairs too soon thereafter.

    So at this point you've presented both sides. At minimum we can hope that this will nudge the Berans into more direct contact with Corning (who I suspect WILL take their phone calls, at least this week), but rather than you drawing the curtain right now, it would be great if you can provide, say, one followup maybe a month from now to let your collective audience know how this turns out.

    1. Yeah, it was a lapse. "Even noble Homer dozed."Though you put your finger on the point — I didn't think Corning was key to the story. But they did. (What's that line in "Shakespeare in Love"? "You see, there's this apothecary..." While I'm open to keeping on this, part of my job is to flit from one topic to the next, so unless the Berans become the Kings of O'Hare Expansion, I don't see that happening.


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