HP in Conway Open, Humming With Customer Support

by Jamie Walden  on Monday, Jan. 11, 2010 12:00 am  

When news broke in June 2008 that Hewlett-Packard of Palo Alto, Calif., intended to establish a substantial operation in Conway amid a recession that has hammered even the traditionally sheltered state of Arkansas, excitement abounded.

Though the center was considered by some to be a call center, which is often the runt of economic development recruitments, HP reported average salaries of about $40,000, which easily trumps traditional call center wages.

The news also broke at quite an opportune moment for the state. Just two weeks earlier, Alltel Corp., one of the largest Arkansas employers, announced it would be selling to Verizon Wireless, a move that was sure to, and eventually did, shed many jobs in central Arkansas.

Though Alltel employed about 3,200 Arkansans, HP's announcement that it would eventually employ 1,200 Arkansans over four years was nonetheless music to many ears. HP declined to reveal how many people it had hired so far at the 150,000-SF facility in Meadows Office & Technology Park.

HP also declined to reveal how many employees were imported from other locations and how many were central Arkansans. Shannon Marnitz, the director of the central Arkansas site and consumer support who transferred from Houston, said the "large majority" of employees were from central Arkansas.

During much of the limbo phase between the economic development announcement and booting up the new building, HP operated out of 40,000 SF of temporary space in the Metropolitan National Bank building in downtown Little Rock.

Last month, HP moved all those employees into the new $28 million building. Though the north side of the building remains under construction until the end of January, the south side is completed and humming with HP support.

Marnitz said the "customer contact center" includes more than technical support jobs, including sales and other functions.

"Everybody in the site reaches out to customers in one way or another through the telephone, whether it's pre-sale, sales or post-sale support."

Marnitz said that HP had used Twitter to find new hires.

The Conway facility is only the second HP facility to use the social media platform to find local talent, Marnitz said. (The first was HP's Rio Rancho, N.M., location.) The HP-Conway Twitter personality has 671 followers. HP declined to reveal the click-through rate of job postings via Twitter, but Marnitz did say the method had been successful.

Marnitz said HP carefully considered the design of the building, aiming for an atmosphere that enhances productivity.

Gensler of San Francisco designed the interior, per the directions of HP, to encourage employees to work wherever is comfortable, unless they're on the phone. The building has several lounge areas with "funky lighting," Marnitz said, to encourage a boundless work environment.

The building structure and exterior, designed by The Wilcox Group of Little Rock, also achieved LEED certification.

The building is designed to keep its lighting from polluting the night sky. With no light traveling upward, the HP building cannot be blamed for the ambient light that masks starry skies, said April Ambrose, a project manager at Viridian, a green building consulting firm in Little Rock that worked with HP on the Conway project.

Many of the floors are a mixture of concrete and recycled glass, which acts as filler and a decoration. The trendy furniture is also made with some recycled material, Ambrose said.

HP received hefty incentives to locate the operation in Conway. The state provided $10 million for infrastructure from the Governor's Quick Action Closing Fund, while the Conway Development Corp. built the structure to HP's specifications. The city of Conway also offered $2.2 million to prepare the site.

HP tried to be bike friendly by adding bike parking inside and outside and including a shower area for those who ride bikes during sweltering Arkansas summers.

Marnitz added that the facility had an exercise room. HP is also working with a local vendor to provide exercise classes for pre- and post-shift workouts. Marnitz said HP couldn't yet identify the vendor.

The parking lot also encourages eco-friendly cars. The lot includes 70 spaces for low-emission, fuel-efficient cars and 258 spaces for compact cars. Those spaces are closer to the building than other spaces.

The north side of the building, when it's completed, will house a cafeteria, Marnitz said, for employees who want to save gas money or avoid the lunch rush.

"So employees won't have to get in the car and drive somewhere to get lunch. They can literally just walk to the cafeteria, grab some food and eat here on site, Marnitz said. "So it's really kind of self-containing for everybody."



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