The call center will create 225 jobs by this summer, and 250 by April 2014. The new location, set for the 17,000 square-foot Cloverleaf Building on Highway 49 south, will be operational by April of this year and will support General Dynamics’ work with the U.S. Dept. of Education’s federal student aid program.
The Mississippi Development Authority is providing $150,000 in ACE money, taken from a fund the MDA uses to help local economic development entities like Hattiesburg’s Area Development Partnership lure projects. The company will also receive local and state tax incentives and workforce training assistance.
General Dynamics, a Fortune 100 company headquartered in Falls Church, Va., employees nearly 100,000 people worldwide. The company is involved in a number of defense contracting specialties, including aviation and marine systems, land and expeditionary systems, armaments and munitions; and shipbuilding and IT systems.
General Dynamics IT is headquartered in Fairfax, Va., employs 21,000 people worldwide and provides systems engineering, professional services and simulation training to a number of private and government agencies, including the defense industry, healthcare, homeland security and intelligence communities.
The center will act as a processing center for federal student aid applications, said Marcus Collier, General Dynamics IT senior vice president of health and civilian solutions division. “We’ve been supporting the Department of Education on this program since 1985,” Collier said.
A majority of the 225 jobs will be customer service representatives and call center supervisors, Collier said.
“We are going to make sure this great company is so excited about being part of the Pine Belt, Hattiesburg and Southern Miss,” Gov. Phil Bryant told an audience of a couple hundred people at Hattiesburg’s Lake Terrace Convention Center.
On Feb. 12, General Dynamics IT’s business chief announced he would retire at the end of February, weeks after General Dynamics wrote down the value of its IT division by $2 billion. The company attributed the write-down to defense cuts and shrinking government demand for IT contracting services.
Gerard DeMuro’s departure followed overall struggles for General Dynamics and particularly its IT arm. In January, the company reported a loss for the fourth quarter, with leadership primarily blaming the devaluation of the IT division.
The mood was brighter in Hattiesburg, where officials gleefully touted General Dynamics as exactly the type of company Mississippi is trying to attract.
“They’re one of the top companies in the world,” Bryant said, “and now they have a presence in Hattiesburg.”
Bryant said he was aware of the recent financial issues General Dynamics IT had endured, but said the state limiting its investment in the project to $150,000 lessened the risk.
“And I think they would view this as a chance to start turning that around,” Bryant said. Bryant noted that the type of IT services whose demand had taken a hit centered on government contract work, such as rewiring federal buildings in the Washington D.C. area with new systems, and were different than the application processing that will be done at the Hattiesburg call center.
Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny Dupree – who opposed Bryant in the 2011 gubernatorial race – said local officials pursued the project for two years before finally landing it.
Dupree said the project hit a “major hiccup” and was in danger of falling through before Bryant’s intervention brought it back to life.
“There’s always a hiccup,” Dupree said. “But we made it through that.”