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HP hiring plans expected today

200-job Conway boost seen

By Jack Weatherly

This article was published December 18, 2013 at 3:39 a.m.

Hewlett-Packard will announce today plans to hire more than 200 software engineers and programmers for its Conway customer-support center, starting in the first quarter of 2014, to soften what it will have to reimburse the state for its help, according to sources close to the deal.

In 2008, Hewlett-Packard signed an agreement to have at least 1,000 employees at the center at the end of five years in return for receiving $10 million from the Governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund along with millions more in city and Faulkner County incentives.

In July 2013, the maker of computers and printers laid off 500 of its 1,400 workers at the Conway facility.

Since then, the number of employees in Conway has dwindled to about 700, according to the sources.

Grant Tennille, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, said Tuesday that he could not divulge details of the deal that the agency has been working on for months, explaining that he is bound by a confidentiality agreement.

“However, I will tell you that the H-P leadership in Conway and nationally has been very focused over the course of the last six months in taking advantage of the Conway operation, its good workforce and its low cost of doing business in looking for solutions to filling those seats that were vacated,” Tennille said.

“We recognize that there will be some head-count issues relative to the original agreement, and we are working with H-P to get those resolved.”

Gov. Mike Beebe issued an email Tuesday that said that an “important economic-development announcement” would be made today at 10:30 a.m. in the Governor’s Conference Room at the state Capitol. Sources said the news conference will be on the addition of H-P employees.

“What we lost [with the layoffs] … the help-line people who [were support] for the laptop products,” one source said. “They were fairly low paid.”

Mayor Tab Townsell said of the announcement on June 20, 2008, of the coming of Hewlett-Packard that “the 21st century in Conway and, to a degree, the state of Arkansas, starts today.”

Beebe said at the time that salaries would start in the lower $40,000 range.

Sources for this story say that the newest jobs at the Conway center will be considerably higher paid than that, though the exact range was not known. Hewlett-Packard’s website lists a number of jobs at Conway, ranging from software developer to health-care plan administration project manager.

The Governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund, which is used at the discretion of the governor, is dependent on total employment, average salary and total payroll, Tennille said. The 14-page contract with the state was provided to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette previously, but many of the key provisions were redacted.

In addition to the $10 million from the state, the city of Conway contributed $5.1 million for infrastructure, the Conway Development Corp. chipped in $1.25 million for land, and Hewlett-Packard is making payment on $20 million in industrial revenue bonds issued by the city of Conway.

The local agencies will not be asking for any payback from the company because they have ownership of the assets.

Front Section, Pages 1 on 12/18/2013

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