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Windstream adding jobs, staying in Little Rock

Tue, 07/13/2010 - 8:20am
Chuck Bartels, AP Business Writer

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) – Windstream Corp. announced Tuesday that it will keep its headquarters in Little Rock and add more than 200 positions, an important announcement for a city that lost a major telecommunications headquarters when Alltel Corp. was bought out by Verizon.

Windstream CEO Jeff Gardner said the company was at the end of the lease it signed in 2006 when the business was formed as a spin-off of Alltel's wireline business and merged with Irving, Texas-based Valor Communications Group Inc.

Since then, Windstream has bought five other phone companies, enabling it to expand from 16 states to 23. That growth led it to explore whether it should move. Gardner said the company plans to continue its strategy of acquiring other companies.

"In the end, after careful analysis, we decided that the best course for the company was to remain in Little Rock and Arkansas," Gardner said.

Gov. Mike Beebe committed $5.5 million in cash incentives, to be paid from the governor's Quick Closing Action Fund as the company adds the new workers. Gardner said the employees will be added over the next couple of years.

"Working with the state, we were able to put Windstream into a position where this makes sense," Gardner said.

Windstream sells broadband and landline phone service, with a concentration in the southeastern United States. The company, which had $4 billion in revenue last fiscal year, will have 510 headquarters workers after the expansion. That will bring its total workers in Arkansas to 1,360. Windstream has 9,500 employees nationwide.

Gardner said the company has had success moving executives from its acquisitions into Little Rock but said it also draws on local residents for key positions.

The governor noted that a corporate headquarters has a greater impact on the economy than simply providing good-paying jobs. A flow of the company's employees and customers will travel to the city and keep more money streaming through area businesses, and also bring the city recognition.

"I don't know that you can spend taxpayers' dollars in any better way than to create or maintain good jobs," Beebe said.

Alltel had about 3,000 workers in Arkansas when it was absorbed by Verizon in a $28.1 billion deal in 2008. Many high-paying jobs at Alltel headquarters were eliminated. But as Beebe noted, Verizon didn't layoff as many workers as expected and now has about 2,500 Arkansas employees.

The headquarters jobs that will stay at Windstream pay an average of $82,000 per year, and the jobs the company will add will have an average salary of more than $40,000 per year, Gardner said.

Windstream will stay in its west Little Rock headquarters. It will also keep an engineering site, also in west Little Rock, where 300 engineers work. Gardner said there is no plan to bring everyone under one roof. The engineering site has strict security, and it is better to keep the division in a separate building, he said.

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