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Accenture chief says new St. Louis office is 'game-changing for our business'

Accenture chief says new St. Louis office is 'game-changing for our business'

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TOWN AND COUNTRY — The trip to St. Louis was the first time Accenture Federal Services CEO John Goodman traveled for work in three months. His company and its employees, like the rest of the world, have been holed up at home during the outbreak of the coronavirus.

But his presence here Tuesday demonstrates the magnitude of the Arlington, Virginia, company’s decision to plant roots in the region with an “advanced technology center.” The new facility, Goodman said, will serve as a “cornerstone” for the company, hiring up to 1,400 people over the next five years.

“It’s an important decision for us,” Goodman said in an interview Tuesday. “I know it represents a lot for the community. … I think it’s game changing for our business.”

The roughly 10,000-employee company, a subsidiary of global consulting firm Accenture, will use its St. Louis office to provide tech consulting work in the digital, cloud, automation, artificial intelligence and cyber fields. The location isn’t related to any one federal contract, and the decision to locate here isn’t due to the proximity of any particular federal customers, Goodman said.

State and local officials gathered on Maryville University’s campus on Tuesday to officially welcome the company to St. Louis. Some, including Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, visited with Goodman at AFS headquarters back in February, but an announcement was delayed due to the pandemic.

“The past few months have been a whirlwind,” Parson said at the ceremony Tuesday. “We are ready to get the state’s economy rolling again, and today’s announcement is a huge step in that direction.”

Rep. Ann Wagner, who represents the area in Washington, said the company is an essential partner for federal agencies.

And St. Louis County Executive Sam Page called AFS’ decision “an incredible day” for the county and region. “St. Louis County is thrilled to be a part of Accenture Federal Services’ growing global network of advanced technology centers in D.C., in San Antonio, New York, Virginia and now in St. Louis,” Page said.

If it meets hiring targets, the company will be eligible for up to $20.2 million in retained state withholding taxes through the Missouri Works program. AFS will also receive $219,000 through the Missouri One Start program for training and recruitment assistance.

Goodman did not provide an estimate for average salaries, saying only that the firm will have to pay “highly competitive salaries” in order to recruit top talent. The state incentive program AFS will utilize requires it to pay average wages of at least $44,627.

The St. Louis Economic Development Partnership said it is recommending a local incentive package to defray $11.1 million in new equipment purchases and the $7.1 million cost of rehabbing the office building, which is owned by Greenwich, Connecticut-based investment firm Starwood Capital Group. The package will include a 50% personal property tax abatement over 10 years and a sales tax exemption on equipment and construction material purchases.

Accenture Federal Services, which has been “rapidly growing and expanding,” began scouting sites for a new technology center about a year ago, Goodman said. The firm worked with AllianceSTL, a privately funded economic development organization focused on attracting new companies to the region. Accenture Federal Services’ decision to open a new office in the region represents the biggest win yet for AllianceSTL since its launch in early 2019.

“This is a testament to the talent that is available and what the future looks like for St. Louis,” said AllianceSTL CEO Steve Johnson.

The new Accenture Federal Services office at 520 Maryville Centre Drive near Maryville University will be ready to move in employees by December, said Molly Ketcham, an AFS managing director of strategic planning. Hiring has already started, and the company plans to recruit about 200 new workers in the first year and then ramp up as quickly as possible.

Ketcham, who worked on the site selection process, is from St. Louis originally, and Goodman joked that they had to make sure she was providing unbiased advice. But St. Louis ultimately checked all the boxes for the talent AFS wanted to recruit.

“I’m very confident in our choice,” he said. “It says a lot about the community that you have created and are creating. At the end of the day, we thought this was the right location.”

The site will be similar to an office the company has in San Antonio, where it has had success recruiting veterans and military service members. St. Louis’ defense employers such as Scott Air Force Base, the Boeing assembly plant and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency do lend themselves to a workforce the company found attractive, he said.

But AFS will recruit talent “from a variety of backgrounds,” he added, and wants a workforce that’s nimble and not dependent on any particular federal contract.

“We can provide additional training to make them highly relevant,” Goodman said.

AFS, like every company, had its own internal debate about whether it still needed to plant a physical presence in a new market given the prevalence of remote work following the pandemic. But the company concluded that the future of work has not “irrevocably changed,” Goodman said.

New hires will need an office to train, develop relationships with co-workers and acclimate to a company culture. Plus, some AFS employees working on sensitive or classified government projects need secure systems and can’t work remotely.

There may well be more flexibility in how employees work going forward, Goodman said.

But, he said, “there’s still great value in co-location.”

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