Conway Wins HP Center and 1,200 Jobs

Hewlett-Packard of Palo Alto, Calif., announced Thursday that it would open a customer service and technical support center in Conway that will employ 1,200.

The announcement was made before a packed house at the University of Central Arkansas' Donald W. Reynolds Performance Hall. Gov. Mike Beebe said the jobs Hewlett-Packard will bring are what the state will need to compete.

These are "the kind of jobs that represent increased earning capacity and wages for the needs and demands of families in today's society. It represents all those obvious tangible monetary benefits and all the surrounding corollary expansions that go along with it. It represents 1,200 jobs that - frankly - will start in the low $40,000s, and with many being much higher paying at the start than that," Beebe said.

Hewlett-Packard will open its 150,000-SF, $28 million facility at the Meadows Office & Technology Park in southern Conway, owned by the Conway Development Corp. The first hires will begin working in late 2009, and the company will staff the facility over a four-year period. The announcement was made simultaneously with another announcement that Hewlett-Packard will open a comparable center in Rio Rancho, N.M.

Hewlett-Packard will receive several economic incentives for locating in Conway. Beebe said the state is providing $10 million from the Governor's Quick Action Closing Fund for infrastructure, and the Conway Development Corp. will build the $28 million facility to the company's specifications. Hewlett-Packard will then lease the building from the development corporation. Conway Mayor Tab Townsell said the city also agreed to spend $2.2 million to prepare the site.

Gary Fazzino, Hewlett-Packard's vice president of government affairs, said many factors led the company to choose Conway.

"It is very clear why Arkansas is such a great place to do business: Business environment, skilled work force, outstanding educational system, high quality of life and a commitment by the state's political, business and educational leadership to aggressively seek out opportunities for economic growth," Fazzino said during the announcement. "These factors helped Arkansas earn its way to the top of the list of U.S. states for HP investment."

A Reason to Return

Maria Haley, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, said the announcement helps reverse many people's conception of Arkansas. Hewlett-Packard's locating in Arkansas also gives Arkansans who left the state to find jobs in the high-tech sector a reason to return, she said.

"It ... will bring high-tech, high-paying jobs to the state. And hopefully, it will bring back some of the people who left the state because they couldn't find quality jobs," Haley said. "And I also think that since the state was able to land this type of particular facility, [it] gives the world a different image" of Arkansas.

For Conway, Hewlett-Packard's decision to locate in the city represents the town's emergence into the new century, Townsell said.

"You know, chronologists will tell you the 21st century started seven or eight years ago; historians will tell you it's a moment in time that starts a century. ... The 21st century in Conway, Arkansas, and to a degree in Arkansas, starts today," Townsell said.

Brad Lacy, president and CEO of the Conway Development Corp., said the organization has had its eyes on information technology companies for some time. The corporation first began working to build the Meadows, a 181-acre office park, seven years ago.

"Seven years ago, you took a big risk to develop this park. Some people did not understand it, and others said it wouldn't work. Today, Hewlett-Packard says it works," Lacy said during the press conference.

Lacy said the city was just lucky to land Hewlett-Packard, which is No. 14 on the Fortune 500.

"It is the world's largest technology company. Our target has always been information technology companies, and now we have the world's largest technology company," Lacy said after the event. "Obviously it is where the economy is going, and it takes advantage of our assets. ... We're young, we're well-educated, and I think the important thing that cities have to do is understand what they are good at and play toward that."

State Rep. Robbie Wills, D-Conway, who will be speaker of the House during the 2009 session of the Arkansas Legislature, said Hewlett-Packard's announcement validates the development corporation's decision to develop the Meadows.

"Conway Development Corp. had made a commitment to the community by buying the property and putting in the infrastructure at the Meadows," Wills said.

The office and technology park was an incentive few other cities vying for Hewlett-Packard could match, Will said. However, other factors in Conway, such as the opening of new upscale restaurants and the city's three colleges, also played a major role in helping the city land Hewlett-Packard, Wills said.

Beebe said he learned that Hewlett-Packard would locate in Conway at the same time Verizon announced it would purchase Alltel Corp. of Little Rock.

Beebe said that the new Hewlett-Packard facility might be a possible employer for Alltel employees uncertain about their jobs, though he would not speculate about whom Hewlett-Packard would hire for the facility.

"I will tell you this, they made the decision and we found out about it simultaneously with the Alltel announcement," Beebe said.

"I think common sense would tell you that any of those people at Alltel who have those high levels of education and qualifications would certainly be potentially good employees if they changed jobs," Beebe said.