COLUMBIA - The original target date IBM set to fully staff its Columbia facility with up to 800 people came and went at the end of 2012. However, the company is refusing to answer any questions regarding its current employment numbers.
In May 2010, IBM originally announced it would hire up to 800 people by the end of December 2012 at its new Columbia center. KOMU 8 News later learned that when the company signed a contract with the state, it actually agreed to hire 600 people by the end of 2015--a much later date it did not publicize widely.
As part of the contract, the state offered IBM $28 million in tax credits and job training funds. In an email, John Fougere with the Department of Economic Development said IBM has been receiving those incentives in increments based on the number of employees it has hired so far.
To get these incentives, IBM must file annual reports with the state documenting the number of people it has hired in the year. KOMU 8 News requested those documents from the DED and learned that as of June 30, 2012, IBM reported 469 employees with an average wage of $27.30 per hour. When it responded to our request, the DED said the June 2012 figure was the latest from IBM, meaning there is no year-end number that would state whether the company reached its original public goal of as many as 800 employees.
When KOMU 8 News reached out to IBM in September 2011 to check up on its hiring progress then, Jeff Tieszen of IBM media relations said it is not "even typical" for IBM to release hiring numbers until it is required to report them to the state.
In a written statement, IBM's director of Cross Competency Services in Columbia, Jim Chapdelaine, said, "IBM does not publicly release the number of employees, but we are currently on pace to meet our commitments to the state we agreed to in 2010." That commitment would be the 600 jobs due by 2015.
Mike Brooks of Regional Economic Development, Inc. said he does not know how many employees IBM has hired in Columbia, but agreed that it is on track to hiring the 600 employees it agreed to in its contract with the state.
Brooks said IBM's secrecy isn't unusual.
"Companies guard different pieces of information differently," he said. "Is it unique about employment? Probably not. Is it something we've experienced in this community? Not that I know of, but I don't know that it's unique when a company doesn't want to share information about what they're doing."
Columbia Mayor Bob McDavid also said he isn't sure of where IBM is in its hiring process.
"IBM is a big company," McDavid said. "It's in the private sector with a lot of competition. They are going to hold the proprietary information close to the vest and I understand that."
In addition to the state's $28 million incentive package to be paid in full by 2015 if IBM meets its goals, the city of Columbia agreed to pay $3 million over a ten-year time span to purchase a building for IBM on LeMone Industrial Boulevard. The city agreed to lease the building to IBM for a dollar per year for ten years. Despite taking millions in public money, McDavid said the company has no obligation to share its employment information.
KOMU 8 News reached out to career services at MU and Columbia College to get a general idea of how many students IBM has hired out of each school and what its recruitment efforts have been like since 2010.
Meredith Shaw, director of engineering career and professional development at MU, said IBM is certainly trying to hire a lot of students, but that many students in the College of Engineering are not looking to stay in Columbia long-term. Shaw also said that IBM has stepped up its recruiting efforts since the company first came to Columbia in 2010. Nearly two and a half years have passed since IBM made its first hires, but Shaw said she didn't have an estimate of how many students took jobs with the company and that MU and IBM are still in the relationship-building phase.
Columbia College Director of Career Services Don Malson also said IBM has been much more vigilant in its recruiting efforts in recent months. Malson said he suspects it has something to do with the company trying to reach the employment level it said it would. Malson also said he isn't sure of the exact number of Columbia College grads currently at IBM in Columbia, but he said it could range anywhere between five and 20. He also said the problem Shaw described of students not wanting to take jobs in Columbia is a problem any university or college might encounter.
"You know, we'd always like to keep the best and brightest and smartest in Columbia," the mayor said when asked about the potential problem IBM has encountered in hiring employees. "But we know the more talent one has, the more options one is going to have."