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|American dream come true|
It's not exactly an easy chore to describe the enormity of the news we learned last week about CenturyLink, a Fortune 500 telecommunications company headquartered in Monroe.
Simply put, it was a big deal in more ways than one.
For those of you who may have been on vacation and didn't keep up with what was happening back on the ranch, Gov. Bobby Jindal paid his umpteenth visit to Ouachita Parish June 28 to join CenturyLink CEO Glen Post in announcing the company would ramp up its employment by 800 positions at its corporate headquarters over the next five years. CenturyLink currently employs about 1,300 people in Ouachita Parish.
According to Jindal and Post, CenturyLink also will maintain its corporate presence in Monroe through 2020. A comforting thought, but eight and a half years is not a long time. Through the year 2050 would be more agreeable, but beggars can't be choosers.
The addition of 800 new jobs at CenturyLink is expected to create 1,170 new indirect jobs in Ouachita. The 800 new direct jobs will be filled by people with skills in accounting, engineering and information technology. The positions will pay, on average, about $65,000 annually plus benefits. The new indirect jobs are expected to pay roughly the same.
CenturyLink's announcement last week came on the heels of two major deals the company made over the past couple of years – the acquisition of Kansas-based Embarq Corp. in 2009 and the acquisition of Denver-based Qwest Corp. in 2010. Those acquisitions made CenturyLink one of the largest telecommunication companies in the world.
Not long after CenturyLink announced its acquisition of Embarq in 2009, Jindal stopped by CenturyLink headquarters where he and Post announced the company would create 350 new direct jobs in Ouachita over four years and keep its corporate headquarters in tack here through 2019. Back then, CenturyLink said the addition of 350 new direct jobs would create some 500 new indirect positions in Ouachita.
Add it all up and we're looking at CenturyLink being responsible for creating more than 1,100 new direct jobs in Ouachita Parish by 2016 and another 1,500-1,600 new indirect positions here.
Let's not forget that Post says other businesses that currently do or want to do business with CenturyLink are considering locating in Ouachita Parish, too, to be close to their biggest customer. Those businesses would represent more jobs and more economic activity for the regional economy.
Dr. Bob Eisenstadt, a respected economist at the University of Louisiana-Monroe, says CenturyLink's activities of late should produce an annual economic impact on the regional economy of some $200 million. A pretty good lick for one of the most impoverished regions in the country.
To assist CenturyLink with the cost of expanding its facilities in Monroe and to aid the company in training an adequate workforce to fill positions at CenturyLink, the state's economic development arm – Louisiana Economic Development Corp. – agreed to put up some $25 million in incentives. Those incentives include some $5 million the state offered in 2009 following the Embarq acquisition as well as another $20 million the state recently pledged to CenturyLink.
To put that $25 million in incentives in perspective, the start-up company Next Autoworks wants a more than $320 million loan (taxpayer dollars) from the U.S. Department of Energy to help the company launch an automobile manufacturing operation in the former Guide plant in eastern Ouachita Parish. Next Autoworks also has tens of millions of dollars in state and local incentives (taxpayer dollars) pledged toward its project.
Which one do you think is a better deal for taxpayers? CenturyLink or Next Autoworks?
This isn't the time to crack jokes about that high-stakes game of craps Next Autoworks is playing. Instead, we should focus our attention on CenturyLink and recognize how important the company is for the future of northeastern Louisiana, not just the Monroe/West Monroe/Sterlington area.
To put it mildly, CenturyLink represents hope for a region of the country that hasn't had much to cheer about in years. And we should be grateful because it's obvious that CenturyLink – particularly Post – feels it owes northeastern Louisiana a great deal for the success the company has enjoyed in the telecommunications industry. If CenturyLink didn't feel an allegiance to northeastern Louisiana, it would relocate its corporate headquarters to another community where the weather is a bit cooler and those "quality of life" concerns weren't a concern.
After all, it was in 1946 when the late Clarke M. Williams took over his family's business, Oak Ridge Telephone Co., the forerunner to CenturyLink. Williams hammered away, hired the right the people to help him run the company, including Post, and laid the foundation for CenturyLink to grow and prosper into what it is today.
If that's not an example of an American dream come true, what is?