Economic Developers Remain Optimistic for Alltel Employees

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Thursday, Jun. 5, 2008 12:05 pm  

Economic development professionals said Thursday that they were optimistic that Verizon would want to keep the work force it acquires when buying Alltel Corp. of Little Rock.

"From AEDC's standpoint, we see opportunity here, and until shown otherwise we're going to stay optimistic about this in the hope that there is room for growth here," said Scott Hardin, spokesman for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. "We're optimistic. We know that Verizon is a very dynamic, growing company so we're hopeful."

Jay Chesshir, president and chief executive officer of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, also expressed hope that the proposed sale wouldn't result in widespread layoffs in Arkansas.

"First of all we are extremely excited that Verizon wireless will have significantly increased presence in the Little Rock and central Arkansas marketplace," Chesshir said.

"This purchase not only provides them with additional market and customer base but also brings to them a significant amount of talented people that Alltel assembled here over many years to grow its company to the point where Verizon was interested in purchasing it...

"We don't know yet what Verizon has determined to do with the existing work force. Because of the talent of that work force, we expect that was a significant reason for the purchase to begin with."

But an e-mail sent to Alltel employees this morning made no employment promises beyond the anticipated closing of the deal late this year. And elimination of duplicate jobs is an essential part of making any corporate merger pay.

In 2005, for instance, when Verizon announced its purchase of MCI Inc. of Ahsburn, Va., CFO Doreen Toben told investors that the work force reductions would go "well beyond eliminating redundancies." The first jobs on the chopping block were support functions such as legal, networking, sales and IT.

If Verizon does affect widespread layoffs of Alltel employees, AEDC hopes to be able to find new employers for that talent, Hardin said.

"At AEDC we're already marketing that specific sector because we're so strong in it," he said.

Telecommunications is one of 12 industries that AEDC is actively seeking to grow in the state.

"Arkansas is a great place for related companies because we have the work force in place already to handle these jobs," he said. "We feel really good about the sector in general and we continue to promote that specific sector. We certainly, certainly hope that that [job loss] does not happen. In the case that it did, we'll continue to recruit as we always have.

"There is opportunity in central Arkansas for those types of employees," he said, while acknowledging that "I couldn't say specifically... that they could find [a job] tomorrow."

Chesshir said the Little Rock chamber hasn't met with Verizon management yet, but looks forward to it.

"It's our intent to meet with them as soon as possible, welcome them and see what we can do to make this transition as smooth as possible."



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