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Business Observer Friday, Nov. 10, 2017 1 year ago

Sweet Home

A company with enough employees worldwide to fill a small city zeroes in on Tampa for expansion. How will it find top talent?
by: Brian Hartz Tampa Bay Editor

Cognizant Technology Solutions, a call center and business services firm with offices everywhere from Argentina to Thailand, believes in Tampa.

So much so that in early September, the New Jersey-based Fortune 500 multinational opened its fourth location in the Tampa Bay area. The move created 75 jobs.

Cognizant employs nearly 2,000 people in Florida, and more than half those jobs are based in Tampa. In 2014, the company made a commitment to hire 412 full-time workers in the region over the next four years. Eric Westphal, Cognizant's senior director of global corporate affairs, says that goal has been met in a little more than two-and-a-half years.

“We're seeing some real, exponential growth in Tampa,” he says. “There's a quality jobs tax credit that we've taken advantage of over the past few years. That's helped us to make further investments in our retraining programs and scale much faster than if we didn't have that.”

Citing confidentiality requests, the company declined to disclose what clients the new location will serve. Westphal says it will provide business process services for large banking and financial services clients, as well as insurance and health care companies.

Cognizant was formed in 1994, initially as the in-house IT services unit at Dun & Bradstreet. It became an independent business in 1998.

The company has since added a host of services, including business consulting, cybersecurity, supply-chain management and data analytics. A significant portion of the company's services is call center work.

Cognizant, with $13.5 billion in revenue in 2016, has a large workforce in India. In the 2017 second quarter, Cognizant posted net income of $470 million, up 86.5% from the second quarter of 2016, when it had $252 million in net income, according to public filings.

Cognizant's clients run the gamut, from Adobe and Amazon to Oracle, Siemens and Verizon — and hundreds more. Reuters reports the company derives more than a third of its revenue from clients in the financial-services sector.

Sunny days

Westphal praises Florida, and Tampa in particular, as a great place to do business and expand.

The feeling appears to be mutual: For it's latest expansion project, Cognizant received a jobs-performance based incentive package worth $225,000. Hillsborough County will cover $45,000 and Florida, via its Qualified Target Industry (QTI) program, will contribute $180,000. The incentives, coming over seven years, will only be paid if Cognizant follows through with the jobs at the wages promised, says Michelle Bauer, chief marketing officer at the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White says it was important to offer incentives to Cognizant, even though the company has vast resources at its disposal, “because we are in a nationally and globally competitive environment. All of our incentives provide strong protections for the taxpayers that include provisions that no incentive money is provided unless the company performs fully. Gaining 75 new, higher-wage jobs is well worth this investment.”

In return, Cognizant benefits from the Tampa Bay area's talent pool, which the firm's chief people officer, James Lennox, says is “fed by the state's post-secondary education system and the high concentration of skilled military veterans and their spouses.”

Training investments

That solid performance helped spur Cognizant's investment in Tampa, which goes beyond the con concoconstruction of buildings and hiring of workers. The company has signed partnerships with Career Source Tampa Bay and Hillsborough Community College to develop technology training courses that will help local students enjoy rewarding careers in the digital economy.

With a global workforce of more than 255,000 people, Cognizant is one of the world's largest employers of STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — professionals worldwide. That's why Lennox says STEM education is “central to our business philosophy.”

Cognizant also runs a grant program, Making the Future, which supports nonprofits and programs that focus on inspiring young people to pursue STEM education. The company works with Hillsborough Community College on that initiative. “We're committed to helping close the STEM skills gap,” Westphal says.

Brian Mann, director of technical programs at HCC, says 15 of the college's recent associate degree recipients have gone on to work for Cognizant. “Placing our graduates into well-paying jobs is a primary goal, not only of the college but also the associate in science degree [program],” he says. “We actively pursue those relationships, and Cognizant has been one of the best, if not the best, partners in that regard.”

The new employees, value management analysts in Cognizant lingo, do a combination of call center and IT services work. They start out as hourly workers, but become salaried after becoming fully trained, Mann says.

“With an IT position like this, you're looking at starting around $40,000 and going up from there. The reason Cognizant has been a big sell for our students is that they come into the classroom and show [students] how you can start here and then basically go anywhere in the world and do anything you want to do. They show them exactly how that works. Cognizant has offices all over the world and there are several career tracks [graduates can take].”

But most HCC graduates — around 80% — who go to work for Cognizant choose to stay in the Tampa Bay area. That's good news to HCC Vice President of Academic Affairs Ginger Clark.

“One of our primary goals as an institution is to promote workforce training that aligns with the needs of local employers,” she says. “Within the past four to five years, we have placed even greater emphasis on workforce training because there are tremendous labor market needs as Tampa continues to grow and attract companies like Cognizant.”

Westphal says CareerSource Tampa Bay has been another valuable partner for Cognizant as the company seeks to build a skilled talent pool.

“They're already delivering a customized curriculum ... we provided some insights and guidance on that curriculum,” he says. “We're excited to see how they grow as a talent source for us.”

The majority of the jobs created in Tampa will be business process services roles that “require a certain level of customer service skills and support and some critical thinking,” Westphal says.

Other jobs at the company require IT knowledge and digital literacy, Westphal adds, including proficiencies in Java, .Net and various other programming languages.

Future expansion

Tampa is one of six Cognizant regional centers in the United States. As such, the company says residents should expect to see continued investment and growth in the area.

“We're doing the best job possible of promoting the quality of life and business climate [in Tampa]. It's a location that we'll continue to expand in,” Westphal says. “We've taken additional space that's intended for future growth. That's our plan, and that's why we want to continue to extend partnerships.”

That has local officials excited.

“Cognizant continues to strengthen and add market credibility to Hillsborough County's reputation as a leader in professional and technology services,” says White, the Hillsborough County commissioner. “Of course, this expansion also provides quality, higher wage jobs for residents. We hope that Cognizant will continue to be successful and continue to invest and create jobs.”

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