Wanting higher profile, IBM offering peek behind the curtain of its riverfront facility

(Editor’s Note: This story has been revised from an earlier version to include updated information from IBM about its use of temporary workers on H-1B visas.)

Though much hype surrounded IBM’s Baton Rouge arrival in 2013, the company has kept a relatively low profile. At times, in fact, the IBM Client Innovation Center—located in a publicly-funded $55 million riverfront complex—didn’t even have a c-level executive based here.

That appears to be changing. IBM will host an open house Wednesday evening to showcase what the company does in its shiny, eight-story building on Lafayette Street.

“IBM is proud to be part of the Baton Rouge community,” says Charles Masters, IBM’s vice president of North America client innovation centers. “Tomorrow’s event builds on many programs we’ve had in place to make a positive local impact, from introducing the P-TECH skills education program to partnering with local colleges and universities and attracting people back to Louisiana for promising new careers in technology.”

Masters, who took over at the local facility 10 months ago, came up with the idea for the event, which is open to the general public, a company spokeswoman confirms. He’s the first executive at the center in three years to maintain any sort of public profile. Unlike his predecessor, Christine Alford, who commuted to Baton Rouge from her home in Canada, Masters lives in Baton Rouge.

Wednesday’s event comes more than mid-way through the 2018-2019 fiscal year, during which the local IBM facility has to meet an ambitious hiring quota as part of its long-term agreement with the state. The company has to hire some 225 full-time workers by June 30 in order to meet its obligation of 800 workers. If it doesn’t, it will have to pay the state a clawback equal to $10,000 for every job it falls short.

Last year, IBM narrowly made its quota of 572 jobs. But that number was based on a renegotiated deal with the state, after it fell short of its hiring quota in 2017.

The company has had trouble attracting qualified workers, at least in part, because its starting salaries have been so low—in the $30,000-$40,000 range, according to local IT executives. To help boost its numbers, the company in the past has counted workers from its sister facility in Monroe. The company also has brought in temporary workers on H-1B visas from overseas, though an IBM spokeswoman says the company never counted the H-1B employees towards its state-mandated quota.

As for progress the facility is making towards meeting its 2019 hiring quota of 800 workers, the spokeswoman could not provide an update, though she says employee ranks “have been growing significantly,” and that Masters will have more details at Wednesday’s open house.

The event is scheduled from 4-6 p.m., 100 Lafayette St., 4th floor.

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