1,200 HP tech jobs coming to Conway

CONWAY, AR -- Hewlett-Packard Co., one of the world’s leading information technology companies, has selected Conway for a new $28 million customer service and technical support center that will employ up to 1,200 workers with an estimated annual payroll of $50 million.


The official memorandum of understanding closing the deal was signed on Tuesday, June 17.


Based on state incentive data, average starting salaries will likely be in the low-$40,000 range, but some sales jobs could pay six-figure incomes.


HP also announced Thursday it would build a similar center in Rio Rancho, N.M., near Albuquerque. HP said the Arkansas and New Mexico operations are designed to meet its growing customer requirements, and that the center will provide “sales, service and technical support” for customers.


“The bulk of their investment is in human capital,” Gov. Mike Beebe told Talk Business in an exclusive interview Wednesday with the economic development team that worked on the effort known as Project Sigma.


Beebe committed $10 million from his Quick Action Closing Fund as part of the state’s incentive package. That money will help construct the $28 million, 150,000-square-foot building in Conway’s 180-acre office and technology park called the Meadows. The Conway Development Corp., a local economic development agency, will own the building and lease it to HP.


The 1,200 IT jobs will be phased in over a four-year period starting in 2009.


However, Beebe stressed that work force readiness and his repeated theme regarding the marriage of education and economic development were the strongest factors for winning the bid.


“This is a specific, applicable instance of addressing that philosophy,” Beebe said. “And not only having the jobs for them when we educate them, but actually those that we’ve already educated, those that already have ties to Arkansas, but couldn’t find those kind of jobs here.”


Conway ’s percentage of baccalaureate degrees per capita and average age were also important factors in the decision-making process, Beebe added. Almost 36 percent of Conway residents have four or more years of college. The median age of the community of 52,000 is 26.8 years, according to a 2005 special census.


Officials with HP, ranked No. 14 among the nation’s Fortune 500 companies, also cited Arkansas’ business environment, standard of living and government cooperation as reasons for locating in Conway.

Beebe and other Arkansas officials learned June 6 that HP selected Conway — the day after mobile-phone giant Verizon announced it intended to acquire Little Rock-based Alltel Corp.


Alltel employs approximately 3,200 workers in state, and Beebe expects that many information technology-related Alltel employees uneasy with their job status or ones who may be laid off will have prospects with HP.


“The final decision was made before the Alltel announcement, so it didn’t influence it,” Beebe told Talk Business. “But the truth of the matter is that a lot of those folks may very well be the kinds of people that would find jobs there.”


The original contact on the project came in the form of a Feb. 7 request for proposal to the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. There were 26 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) that made the first cut.


The University of Central Arkansas, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and Hendrix College were included in the community presentations. The schools agreed to establish courses that will meet HP’s workforce needs, according to Beebe.


“That obviously was the question that the [HP] team had: ’Can you demonstrate to provide the workforce?’ Conway stepped up to the plate,” he said.


The Governor also said Arkansas’ image continues to present both a challenge and an opportunity.



Roby Brock, Talk Business

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