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John Hancock bringing tech jobs to bay area

By KYLE PARKS

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 14, 2000


TAMPA -- Coming south to find more workers, John Hancock Financial Services Inc. is opening a 200-employee information technology operation at the netp@rk.tampabay office complex in east Tampa.

The Boston company plans to start hiring immediately, with the office opening by March. Average pay for the jobs, which include positions in project development and software maintenance, will be $50,000 to $75,000 a year.

That's high for Hillsborough County, where the average wage is about $29,000, and the expansion marks a victory in the Tampa Bay area's quest to become a technology center.

"This is an important project, both for the type of jobs and for the location, close to Tampa's urban core," said Robin Ronne, director of business development for the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

Hancock's main IT office, which has 1,200 employees, is in its corporate headquarters city, but the company decided it needed to open a branch office where it could find more workers.

The search narrowed to four cities -- Tampa, Toronto, Pittsburgh and Charlotte, N.C. -- and Hancock decided on netp@rk.-tampabay, a former shopping mall that's been retrofitted to appeal to technology and customer service operations.

The netp@rk facility, formerly East Lake Square Mall, is owned by Hancock, but company executive Bill Ball said that wasn't a major factor in the decision.

"The building was a bonus, but we did demographic analysis and visited to see if Tampa could meet our needs to get workers," said Ball, a vice president in Hancock's IT department.

On one of the visits, Hancock officials met with University of South Florida students, and they came away impressed. The company's plan: Hire entry-level and experienced people, with the idea of growing IT experts.

Hancock expects to have 200 employees within 18 months. They will work on software that is used within the company and sold to other financial services firms.

Other key factors for Tampa in the competition were its size and its quality of life. Hancock wanted its operation to be a big fish in a city's technology industry, so Toronto and Charlotte were too big. And Tampa came out ahead of Pittsburgh on the desirabilityscale as the company recruits workers.

The move means the 956,000-square-foot netp@rk.tampabay facility is almost half-full. Other major tenants are customer service centers for General Motors, Alltel Communications and Marriott Vacation Club.

Officials at netp@rk.tampabay hope landing Hancock can help them convince other technology operations to move there. The facility has an on-site employee day care center, an auditorium for teleconferencing and redundant electrical and phone systems to guard against outages.

The park is located in a struggling neighborhood, but it pitches its proximity to Interstate 275 and Interstate 4 and the success it has had in getting quick permitting from Hillsborough County.

"We've been very aggressive in helping them because we want to help revitalize that part of the city," said Bruce Register, corporate development manager for Hillsborough County.

Hancock is getting tax incentives from the state and county under the Qualified Target Industries Tax Refund Program, but the company plans to grow beyond the 160 jobs it promised to get the incentives.

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