DRA - Louisiana - CenturyLink - Winter 2016

One of the nation’s leading technology companies continues to thrive in Monroe, Louisiana

By Trisha Ostrowski

Telecom giant CenturyLink is growing worldwide, but remains committed to the Louisiana Delta.

Without a doubt, companies like technology giant CenturyLink could choose to do business anywhere and would be welcomed with open arms. For this company, however, the Louisiana Delta has been the location of choice for more than 80 years. And today, Century Link is a Fortune 170 technology company and the largest publicly traded company headquartered in Louisiana, serving as a key economic driver for an entire region. 


By 2015 in fact, CenturyLink found itself expanding so rapidly that it was completing data center expansion projects in Boston, London, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Phoenix, Seattle and Washington, DC. It now provides communications and data services to residential, business, governmental and wholesale customers across the United States and internationally, showing absolutely no signs of slowing down.


Even with its worldwide growth, CenturyLink remains committed to the Louisiana Delta. Founded in 1930, when William Clarke and Marie Williams purchased the Oak Ridge Telephone Company for $500, the company has grown to cover a 250,000-route-mile U.S. fiber network and a 300,000-route-mile international transport network. Steady growth has not swayed the company from its roots in the Bayou State.


In the early 2000s, when CenturyLink began growing at record pace through key acquisitions, company leaders evaluated a variety of options for their future headquarters locations. The company worked with Louisiana Economic Development (LED) to discuss options. President and CEO Glen Post wanted to keep CenturyLink in Monroe. As a graduate of nearby Louisiana Tech University, Post recognized the value of maintaining CenturyLink’s decades-long relationship with the state. However, deciding where to establish headquarters for a much larger CenturyLink could not be a sentimental choice. Keeping the headquarters in Monroe had to make good business sense. New challenges had to be addressed in order to accommodate a growing CenturyLink, which, after the company agreed to acquire Qwest in 2009, was poised to add 800 jobs to its headquarters.


Louisiana stepped up with workforce solutions that would meet CenturyLink’s demand for hundreds more qualified professionals and produced a competitive incentive package, eventually convincing Post, his executive team and his board to select Monroe over several competing locations.


President & CEO Glen Post wanted to keep CenturyLink in Monroe. As a graduate of nearby Louisiana Tech University, Post recognized the value of maintaining CenturyLink’s decades-long relationship with the state.To address CenturyLink’s workforce needs, LED partnered with Louisiana Tech. As part of what the state set up on the company’s behalf, CenturyLink could collaborate with Louisiana Tech to plan and design courses to serve the advanced education needs of the company’s workforce. The purpose of this collaboration would be to establish a certificate program that would strengthen the skills of employees. CenturyLink also used Louisiana’s FastStart workforce program, which provided recruiting, screening and training services to support its growth.


In addition to providing continued workforce development support, LED also found a way to accommodate CenturyLink’s need for larger, long-term headquarters space and identify interim office space that would allow the company to grow immediately.


After collaborating with CenturyLink leadership, the state offered $14.9 million to pay for 50 percent of the construction or leasing of additional headquarters space in Monroe, as well as a $3.3 million performance-based grant to reimburse CenturyLink for the relocation costs of Qwest employees and executives. In March 2013, company executives and state leaders broke ground on the new 300,000-square-foot headquarters expansion — the Technology Center of Excellence. The 800 new headquarters jobs, combined with CenturyLink’s current employment, gave the company a total of 2,600 employees in the Monroe area. The facility formally opened in 2015.


Only a month before CenturyLink’s new center’s opening, IBM announced it would establish a 400-job Application Development and Innovation Center in Monroe, which will serve as the anchor of an 88-acre technology park and mixed-use development. The new development will be located along U.S. Highway 165 directly across from CenturyLink’s corporate headquarters, and serves as a testament to CenturyLink’s success in Monroe.


“We are pleased to have taken this important step that we believe will ultimately lead to a new development benefiting Monroe and surrounding communities,” said Post, “by offering more choices for housing, recreation and work.”


The addition of 800 new jobs at CenturyLink’s recently completed 300,000-square-foot headquarters expansion gave the company a total  of 2,600 employees in the Monroe.To support the partnership with IBM, the State of Louisiana is providing $4.5 million in funding over 10 years to expand key higher education programs, including the computer science program at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, the cyber engineering program at Louisiana Tech, and the data analytics program at Grambling State University. In addition, the State will provide $12 million for construction of new office space for the use of IBM.


“Strategic partnerships like this one with IBM advance our goals for the Technology Center of Excellence, our company and our community. Our partnership with IBM enables IBM and CenturyLink to work together to grow both of our companies and support the communities where our employees live and work,” said Post. “As CenturyLink continues to grow in the United States and around the world, we are committed to expanding our operations in Northeast Louisiana.”


Delta Regional Authority (DRA) has partnered with CenturyLink and IBM to work on grants that will benefit Monroe by offsetting some of the infrastructure costs incurred with the new development. For DRA, investment is not just about funding corporate expansions or entrepreneurship. Leaders are intentional about improving the quality of life for citizens of the Delta region, via funding a wide variety of projects.


CenturyLink also has benefited from tremendous support at the local level from North Louisiana Economic Partnership. NLEP recognizes that CenturyLink’s sustained economic success is critical to North Louisiana and Monroe in several ways. For example, CenturyLink serves as an anchor for North Louisiana’s emerging technology corridor along Interstate 20, stretching from Monroe to Shreveport.


Recognizing the company’s tremendous importance, NLEP created a new position, a director of information technology initiatives, who works with CenturyLink to assist with recruiting suppliers and vendor companies to enhance the company’s supply chain. In addition, the director partners with the local universities and colleges to ensure a strong IT workforce pipeline is generated for CenturyLink and other technology companies. The goal is to transform Monroe into a place that can retain a world-class, global company and to attract the caliber of workers needed to sustain CenturyLink’s rapid growth.


“I’ve seen how a single corporate leader can transform communities and economies, like Walmart in Bentonville, Ark., and Dell in Round Rock, Texas. CenturyLink has the same transformational impact on Monroe, La.,” said Scott Martinez, NLEP president. “We’ve already seen how their presence in Monroe has led to IBM announcing a new 400-job Innovation and Application Center across the street from CenturyLink. Our community’s future is tied directly to CenturyLink’s success in North Louisiana. As a regional economic development organization, NLEP is committed to ensuring that CenturyLink can sustain its growth in our region.”


Through all of its years of doing business in Northeast Louisiana, the company has found significant advantages both for its growth as a telecom leader and for quality of life of the people who fuel its success. As CenturyLink’s external communications manager Annmarie Sartor explains, “We have found the Monroe area to provide many quality-of-life advantages for our employees, such as great options to enjoy the arts and the outdoors, as well as the benefits of having three universities so close: the University of Louisiana Monroe, Louisiana Tech in Ruston, and Grambling State University in Grambling. Plus, Monroe is located on the I-20 corridor with easy access to Dallas (west) and Jackson, even Atlanta (east); we’re about 300 miles from New Orleans and Little Rock. We have a new airport as well, with connecting flights to Atlanta, Houston and Dallas.” 

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