Firm To Bring High-tech Jobs To Rural Texas

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WILL WEISSERT

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Gov. Rick Perry is cutting the ribbon Wednesday on a private firm's new $7 million information and technology facility, which promises to create at least 350 new jobs in a rural Central Texas.

CGI Group Inc. is building a 40,000-square-foot center providing technology services in Belton, about 60 miles north of Austin. The firm is receiving $1.8 million in state money from the governor's Texas Enterprise Fund, which is designed to attract high-tech firms to the state.

George Schindler, president of CGI in the U.S., said the company looked at 30 communities across five states before settling on Belton. He said the area offers a skilled workforce trained at several nearby colleges and universities — but one that won't demand the top salaries required by applicants in larger cities.

"We're getting access to talent that is untapped," Schindler said. "That's why we really look at these smaller communities."

He said incentives from state and local government also helped bring CGI to Belton, and that avoiding traditional technology hubs in Texas meant not having to compete with — or poach from — other top firms seeking tech employees.

Texas has long attracted high-tech companies to places like Dallas or Austin, but Belton is the kind of locale cutting-edge companies likely wouldn't have considered without support from the Texas Enterprise Fund, said Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed.

"The fund is designed to attract jobs to areas across the state not just those places that are traditional hubs," Nashed said.

As of last month, Perry said the fund has invested more than $443.4 million and signed contracts to generate 62,000 new jobs and more than $15.4 billion in capital investment — though critics say injecting state dollars into the private market is tantamount to picking private-sector winners and losers.

Founded in 1976, Montreal-based CGI has approximately 31,000 employees around the world. It offers end-to-end information and technology processes and services, meant to provide clients with every step of technological development.

The company already has more than 700 employees across Texas. The new center will create at least 350 new jobs, and perhaps as many as 400, by 2016. Schindler said 50 people are already working in Belton and there will be 100 there by the end of the year.

Fort Hood is also about a half hour's drive away, and CGI plans to recruit military veterans and their relatives. Schindler said CGI already does a lot of work for the U.S. armed forces and, "we recognize the leadership veterans bring, the experience they bring and the commitment and dedication that they have."

The area could use an economic shot in the arm. The unemployment rate for Bell County, which includes Belton, was 7.6 percent in February and as high as 8.6 percent last year. Texas' statewide unemployment rate has fallen for six consecutive months, to 7.1 percent in February.