Merger puts Monroe-based telecom company on Fortune 500 list
Founded as Oak Ridge Telephone Company in 1946, Monroe-based CenturyTel acquired Kansas-based EMBARQ in July 2009. Together, these companies became CenturyLink: one of the largest companies in Louisiana. The acquisition created an industry-leading communications provider, with an expanded suite of products for its customers and consumers.
Upon the completion of the acquisition, CenturyLink became the fourth-largest telecommunications firm in the country and one of three Louisiana companies on the Fortune 500 list. With this sudden increase in size, the company-wide staff spiked from 6,000 to 20,000 across 33 states. In addition to this increase in national workforce, the company faced the prospect of adding nearly 350 new people at its headquarters. Identifying qualified talent to fill those roles became a major concern for company leadership.
After the acquisition, the CenturyLink board, recently reconstituted from the combined companies, evaluated a variety of options for its future headquarters locations.
LED develops solutions to retain CenturyLink in Monroe
LED leadership knew Louisiana could grow with CenturyLink, and LED officials met with company President and CEO Glen Post to discuss options.
Keeping CenturyLink in Monroe appealed to Post, too. A graduate of nearby Louisiana Tech University, Post recognized the value of maintaining CenturyLink’s eight-decade relationship with the state. However, deciding where to establish headquarters for a much larger CenturyLink could not be a sentimental choice. Retaining the headquarters of the merged company in Monroe had to make business sense.
LED developed a strategy to address the requirements of the CenturyLink board. This strategy included providing workforce solutions that would meet CenturyLink’s demand for hundreds more qualified professionals and producing a competitive incentive package to convince Post, his executive team and his board to select Monroe over several competing locations.
To address CenturyLink’s workforce needs, LED partnered with Louisiana Tech. The state offered the University $900,000 over three years to establish the Clarke M. Williams Professorship in Telecommunications, named in honor of CenturyTel’s Founder. As part of this arrangement, CenturyLink could collaborate with Louisiana Tech to plan and design courses to serve the advanced education needs of the company’s workforce. The purpose of this collaboration would be to establish a certificate program that would strengthen the skills of employees and provide them with the training needed for additional success in professional and technical development.
CenturyLink would also qualify for the state’s Quality Jobs Program to support additional employee payroll. Additionally, the state offered the services of LED FastStart® — ranked the No. 1 workforce program in the nation — to provide recruiting, screening and training services to identify the best talent available.
CenturyLink leadership embraced the solutions provided by the state. The company could successfully grow in Monroe and keep its headquarters in the community where it had been established over sixty years before.
“Louisiana’s custom-fit solutions are enabling CenturyLink to add 1,150 employees faster.”
As CenturyLink expands, a new opportunity emerges
In November 2009, state and local officials joined President and CEO Glen Post as he announced CenturyLink’s decision to remain in Louisiana and grow its business in Monroe. The company agreed to add 350 Louisiana-based jobs to its Monroe headquarters over the following four years.
The solutions provided by the state represented a dedicated business culture — one that could support the growing company.
“The state has stepped up to make Louisiana more business friendly; and we appreciate their efforts and the incentives being put forth… in the years to come,” said Post. “Our people are the engine that drives our success, and we will continue to add jobs and training to enhance the quality of the workforce.”
Soon after, LED FastStart began developing quality-of-life, job description and job-orientation videos to enhance CenturyLink recruiting. As FastStart proceeded with its efforts and updated the training process at CenturyLink’s Monroe headquarters, CenturyLink continued to develop.
Poised for additional growth, in April 2010 CenturyLink disclosed an even larger acquisition: plans to buy a larger Western U.S. rival — Qwest Communications. Speculation emerged over CenturyLink’s continued presence in Monroe, as Qwest’s 52-story office tower in downtown Denver appeared too good for CenturyLink to resist. With Denver’s metro population of nearly 3 million, a potential CenturyLink relocation loomed.
Post conveyed his interest in keeping CenturyLink in Louisiana. If a better opportunity presented itself, however, CenturyLink had to evaluate all options.
With the expectation that other large U.S. metro areas would court CenturyLink, LED redoubled its efforts to retain the company in Monroe. New challenges had to be addressed in order to accommodate a growing CenturyLink, which, after the Qwest acquisition, was poised to add 800 jobs to its headquarters. At its existing state, the Monroe facility could not support such an increase.
In addition to providing continued workforce development support, LED would also have to find a way to accommodate CenturyLink’s need for larger, long-term headquarters space and identify interim office space that would allow the company to grow immediately.
Determined to address these needs, LED officials again created a multi-faceted solution. After collaborating with CenturyLink leadership, the state offered $14.9 million to pay for 50 percent of the construction or leasing of additional headquarters space in Monroe, as well as a $3.3 million performance-based grant to reimburse CenturyLink for the relocation costs of Qwest employees and executives.
Additionally, LED would provide up to 150,000 square feet of discounted space in the state-owned Accent Building in Monroe through 2015. This space could be used a as a temporary office space for CenturyLink staff during the construction of new headquarters.
LED also committed to build upon the development of CenturyLink’s workforce training, providing an additional $1.2 million over four years to expand CenturyLink’s telecommunications partnership with Louisiana Tech.
Home sweet home: CenturyLink inks deal to stay in Louisiana
In June 2011, with several floors of CenturyLink employees ringing the company’s multistory atrium at its Monroe headquarters, CenturyLink leadership and state officials announced a successful negotiation: CenturyLink would remain in Louisiana through at least 2020, keeping the company in Monroe.
“The agreement we’re announcing today really helps enable our headquarters to grow in a way to support our growing operations. We’re really appreciative of the opportunity we have to work with the state to grow our headquarter operations, our buildings and accommodations for our employees here in the years to come,” said Post. “This is not just an agreement in and of itself. It’s an expression of confidence in our future...and our CenturyLink family.”
This announcement was made at a favorable time, as only a few months later, CenturyLink completed another merger, this time with Savvis Inc. — a global leader in cloud infrastructure and hosted IT solutions. As a result of this new deal, CenturyLink gained the business of clients who make up one-third of the Fortune 100.
This acquisition demonstrated CenturyLink’s gradual shift into the field of software development. As such, CenturyLink could bolster its bottom line with the use of Louisiana’s best-in-the-nation tax credit on software developed in the state. Software for Savvis cloud computing and IT services, as well as applications for CenturyLink’s other communications technology, would qualify for the full tax credit when developed in Louisiana by state residents.
A gleaming new headquarters for Louisiana success story, CenturyLink
In March 2013, with CenturyLink already on track to meet its hiring goals of 350 jobs by 2013 as part of its initial acquisition of EMBARQ, company executives and state leaders broke ground on the new 300,000-square-foot headquarters expansion — the Technology Center of Excellence. The headquarters expansion was designed to facilitate an additional 800 employees. These new jobs, combined with CenturyLink’s current employment and the 350 from the EMBARQ, would give the company a total of 2,600 employees in the Monroe area.
By the time company leaders formally opened the Technology Center of Excellence in March 2015, the company was well on its way to reaching its hiring goals. Not only had CenturyLink hired all 350 positions affiliated with the EMBARQ acquisition, but it also hired 530 of the 800 jobs initially announced with the headquarters expansion.
To support this growth, FastStart again stepped in to assist CenturyLink’s recruiting and training efforts. FastStart developed training materials for CenturyLink’s Ambassador Program, which are used to welcome new employees and their families into the Monroe area. Additionally, FastStart created a series of Interactive Training Modules, or ITMs, that cover a wide range of CenturyLink-based topics. Each module can be played and replayed at the user’s own pace. Once the expansion is completed FastStart will create additional ITMs covering topics related to the company’s network operations center.
The expansion, which brought the CenturyLink campus to 650,000 square feet, was built with environmentally sustainable building practices. The company is pursuing LEED certification in the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system, which recognizes buildings that reach a high degree of environmental performance in such categories as water efficiency, energy use, materials and resources, innovation and design, indoor environmental quality, and site sustainability.
“Today marks an important milestone for CenturyLink and our North Louisiana community as we open the CenturyLink Technology Center of Excellence, a facility that will be a key in driving our company’s future growth,” Post said. “As CenturyLink transitions from a traditional network communications provider to a growing, integrated provider of advanced IP-enabled network, cloud, hosting and IT services, it will be increasingly important that we are able to attract the best talent in the world. We believe the Technology Center will help us accomplish this transition successfully.”
The grand opening came at a time of great activity in the Monroe area. Only a month before CenturyLink’s executives opened the new center, IBM announced it would establish a 400-job Application Development and Innovation Center in Monroe, which will serve as the anchor of an 88-acre, CenturyLink-affiliated technology park and mixed-use development. The new development will be located along U.S. Highway 165 directly across from CenturyLink’s corporate headquarters, and serves as a testament to CenturyLink’s success in Monroe.