Customer growth drives need for GE technology center
GE Capital, part of one of the world’s most successful companies, identified a crucial need in 2010 for establishing a high-performance technology center. The center would support GE Capital’s financial products and customer functions. Parent company GE already had established technology centers in Michigan and Virginia, but GE Capital was handling millions of transactions and needed its own dedicated support center.
GE Capital executives began evaluating locations with several key requirements: The new center of technology excellence would need a deep pool of talent to handle software development and technology support; a collaboration with nearby academic institutions to establish a pipeline of talent for the future; and strong state support for a growing tech sector.
New Orleans offers GE Capital access to talent
Louisiana had emerged as a growing tech hub, so much so that by 2012, Louisiana ranked No. 1 for digital media performance by Business Facilities magazine. Several factors facilitated this growth, including lower operating costs in the state, targeted tax credits for software, an exceptional quality of life, and a renewed cooperation among city, state and federal leaders. These strengths created an ideal climate for attracting digital media and software development firms to Louisiana, including Electronic Arts, Moonbot Studios and Pixel Magic VFX. Digital game developer Gameloft also invested in Louisiana, creating a game design studio in New Orleans. Because of the city’s talent pool and access to academic resources, economic development officials positioned New Orleans as a model location for new tech development.
In late 2010, as GE Capital was conducting a nationwide evaluation of locations for its technology center, Louisiana’s economic development agency, LED, cultivated technology assets that would benefit the project. These efforts continued into 2011, with LED partnering with Greater New Orleans Inc., the New Orleans Business Alliance and the New Orleans Mayor’s Office. Economic development leaders in New Orleans acknowledged competition for the GE Capital investment would be tough. But with the skilled workforce and infrastructure of New Orleans, and robust support from state and local levels, LED and its partners were confident in their efforts to attract GE Capital.
LED created a customized incentive package to address the company’s needs. To ensure project success, the state committed $5 million paid over 10 years to fund expanded computer-science programs at the University of New Orleans and other universities. This partnership with local universities would facilitate a pipeline of highly trained graduates to take on key roles at GE.
To further support workforce needs, the state provided the services of LED FastStart® — the No. 1 state workforce recruitment and training program in the nation. The incentive package primarily addressed GE Capital’s workforce needs, but provided additional benefits. The state offered a $10.7 million performance-based grant to reimburse costs associated with relocation, recruitment, office refurbishment, lease expenses and office equipment. Additionally, GE Capital qualified for the state’s Quality Jobs program, which provides a 6 percent annual rebate against new payroll for the first 10 years of operations.
GE chooses New Orleans
In February 2012, GE Senior Vice President Brackett Denniston joined state and local leaders to announce the creation of the GE Capital IT Center of Excellence in New Orleans.
“We took our time to select a location for this important center,” Denniston said. “We looked all over the country but, after much consideration, New Orleans rose to the top of our list.”
The center would be home to 300 high-quality technology jobs and serve as a major resource for GE Capital employees across the nation. Executives announced GE Capital would occupy 60,000 square feet of office space in the New Orleans Central Business District.
“We are proud to be bringing this state-of-the-art facility to one of America’s signature cities in a state committed to growth,” Denniston said. “This center will be an important resource for GE Capital and the New Orleans community.”
After the announcement, LED FastStart began the process of identifying the best talent for GE Capital. FastStart provided enhanced workforce development solutions, including the customized recruitment of individuals through recruiting videos and a website landing page showcasing the quality of life in New Orleans.
GE sees growth in first year in New Orleans
FastStart’s recruiting services proved successful. At the dedication of the technology center in April 2013, GE officials announced they were ahead of their hiring schedule. The company had filled 100 jobs and was on its way to full employment of 300 workers.
FastStart developed customer videos for GE Capital covering professional development topics. It also worked with GE Capital’s marketing division to create a unique identity for the New Orleans operations, designing graphics to be used on social media-based recruiting campaigns.
GE Capital leaders joined UNO leaders to announce the creation of the Software Engineering Apprenticeship Program, or SWEAP. Created by GE Capital and the UNO computer engineering staff, with the assistance of FastStart, students in SWEAP attend classes tied to GE Capital’s computer science needs, gaining work experience and industry training. Once finished with their undergraduate course work, participants in SWEAP are able to pursue IT certifications through GE Capital, and some are hired as apprentices. The partnership with UNO will help ensure the continued success of a talent pipeline in New Orleans.
“We feel strongly that this program will grow the future pool of highly skilled software development workers in the New Orleans area,” said Chief Information Officer Mike De Boer of the New Orleans GE Capital Technology Center.
New Orleans center advances through restructuring
In April 2015, GE announced a strategic realignment, which included plans to exit parts of the financial sector and divest noncore parts of its GE Capital business. Though GE’s operations in New Orleans were originally designed to operate under the GE Capital banner, the parent company recognized the incredible value the New Orleans investment could deliver for the company’s future plans.
A few months after the realignment was announced, the New Orleans operations were restructured to develop software for GE’s industrial customers in the electric power, water, and oil and gas segments as part of the company’s focus on high-growth divisions. GE retained its commitment to reach its hiring goals and the New Orleans facility was renamed as the GE Digital Solutions Technology Center.
The smooth transition allowed for continued success for GE in New Orleans, as employees applied their respective skills to projects aligned with the updated mission of the New Orleans center. By the beginning of 2017, the GE project resulted in 270 high-paying jobs for New Orleans area residents. The SWEAP program also proved successful, with 22 SWEAP participants from UNO hired for full-time positions at GE by the end of 2016, and more students receiving employment offers in advance of graduation.