Impact of IBM felt in BR

The IBM Services Center in Baton Rouge already is paying off, though the ceremonial groundbreaking for project was just held Thursday.

IBM Senior Vice President Colleen Arnold said the center has exceeded its employment schedule, while an LSU official said the number of first-year computer science students at the university is up by 55 percent for the fall semester.

As a prelude to the construction of its downtown building, IBM has been operating a temporary Baton Rouge office in the Essen Centre office building since the summer and already has more than 100 employees. Under its incentives agreement with the state, IBM wasn’t scheduled to hit the 100-employee milestone until June 2014.

“These employees are working on some of the most complex projects,” Arnold said. “This is all done in a temporary location. Imagine what will happen after the groundbreaking and we have a beautiful site in Louisiana.”

Arnold, along with Gov. Bobby Jindal, Mayor-President Kip Holden, Baton Rouge Area Foundation CEO John Davies and other state and local officials, were on hand for the groundbreaking Thursday in the Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center.

Because the groundbreaking was held inside a hotel ballroom, the officials stuck shovels in a trough filled with blue dirt, while IBM employees in blue polo shirts watched.

Davies said the groundbreaking had to be held inside because of all the work that is going on at the downtown site that will be home for IBM.

The offices will be built at the Lafayette Street location that had been home for The Advocate until 2005.

“We’ve been paying attention to Colleen and she said ‘Get going’,” Davies said. “We don’t have a day to waste because they are pressing us. They want to get in that facility.”

Arnold said she has been pleased with the talent and skills of the local employees that IBM has hired so far. Sixty percent of the hires are graduates from five Louisiana universities: LSU, Southern University, Northwestern State University, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Southeastern Louisiana University, said Tim McLachlan, vice president of the Baton Rouge office.

While IBM has said it plans to hire 800 people in the Baton Rouge service center, Arnold said there’s no reason those numbers couldn’t be topped.

“There is no reason that this wouldn’t just grow and grow and grow,” she said. “From what I’ve seen, from the 100 that are here, I don’t know why we didn’t start earlier.”

The dean of the LSU College of Engineering, Richard Koubek, said the plan is to triple the number of computer science graduates at the university from 30 to 90 and to increase the size of computer science faculty from 13 to 25 in the next three to five years to provide IBM with a steady pipeline of potential employees.

This would put LSU among the top 15 universities in the country in terms of the number of computer science degrees awarded annually, Koubek said.

The number of first-year computer science students at LSU is up by 55 percent for the fall semester to about 125, Koubek said. And a committee has been formed to start searching for potential new computer science faculty members. IBM is helping LSU craft a computer science curriculum that focuses on technology, math and software development to meet the demand for business services.

The project will include a $30 million office building and a $25 million residential tower. The Wilbur Marvin Foundation, a nonprofit that holds most of BRAF’s real estate assets, will own the IBM complex.

The 800 employees are expected to work in the eight-story IBM building in jobs such as application development, application management and system integration.

The residential tower will contain 95 apartments and nine luxury town homes. A 24,000-square-foot terrace will connect the buildings.

Louisiana’s economic development department estimates the IBM offices will result in an additional 542 new indirect jobs. About 600 construction jobs will be needed for the project.

The Lemoine Co. will serve as contractor. The IBM offices are set to open in mid-2015, while the residential tower will open a few months later, in 2016.