By David Lias
Officials from the city of Vermillion, the University of South Dakota, and state government, including Gov. Dennis Daugaard, will announce a groundbreaking new partnership with a software services company Wednesday afternoon.
This unique effort with Eagle Creek Software Services has the potential to create 1,000 new jobs in South Dakota, with 200 of those jobs being headquartered in Vermillion.
Those jobs will boast pay higher than the state’s average wages, and the supply of employees will come from USD and its recently formed Information Technology Consultant Academy.
“We’ve been working with this company for a long time,” said Steve Howe, executive director of the Vermillion Chamber of Commerce and Development Company. “The company provides software outsourced services for companies.
Details of this collaborative effort will be revealed at a press conference scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Al Neuharth Media Center on the USD campus in Vermillion.
“These jobs that are to be created will require a college education. The pay is well above average – far greater than the average salary in Vermillion,” Howe said. “The wonderful thing about this employer is that they hire employees directly out of college, unlike most IT (Information Technology) companies that typically require years of service.”
Eagle Creek Software Services, with headquarters in Eden Prairie, MN, was founded in 1999. The company has project centers in Valley City, ND, and Pierre, and has targeted Vermillion as the site of a fourth location.
“The addition of 200 jobs in the community the size of Vermillion is significant,” said Pat Costello, commissioner, Governor’s Office of Economic Development. “I couldn’t be more pleased that Eagle Creek Software Services has decided to grow their footprint in South Dakota.”
Eagle Creek provides consulting and technical expertise, focusing on customer relationship management, information management, and applications development.
The company’s mission is to help its clients increase quality and efficiencies while managing price and risk in software development, deployment, and support.
To achieve that mission, it is relying on a unique relationship with state and local government and USD.
“The types of jobs they will be bringing are referred to as IT programming and consulting services. They don’t do traditional programming like writing code from scratch,” Howe said. “Most of the companies that they are dealing with are buying off-the-shelf software. They are adapting that software to their customers’ needs.”
It is envisioned that local employees of Eagle Creek will go to work in a new building in Vermillion, constructed by the Vermillion Chamber of Commerce and Development Company and leased to the firm.
“The economic impact of this is impressive, and they are initially looking at probably a 30,000 square foot building,” Howe said.
The building may be constructed in the River Bend Business Park, located near Vermillion’s WalMart.
“We have some hoops that we need to jump through to get the financing and other necessary things, but once that’s complete, we’ll hopefully be turning dirt this summer for the building,” he said.
Eagle Creek’s services are used by a variety of companies, from healthcare, insurance and financial services, to communications, technology, and life sciences.
“What makes Vermillion and this company work so well together is the relationship with USD that we’ve developed,” Howe said. “This is all part of a very in-depth, collaborative partnership involving the company, the community, the university, the Board of Regents, and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.”
A key component is the Information Technology Consultant Academy, located on the USD campus.
“We created a training program within the university systems that will create a pipeline feeder of the employees that have these base skill sets when they graduate,” Howe said.
Those skilled employees, he said, will significantly reduce the training time and costs usually associated with securing new employees for the firm. Those who complete the academy’s coursework will be workforce ready wherever they seek employment.
“The training and certain coursework that is made available (through the academy) is not just for this company,” Howe said. “That’s the beauty of it. The skill sets that people will learn at this academy, if they don’t go to work for Eagle Creek, are very marketable anywhere else in the state. These are needed skill sets.”
“This is a very exciting project. We’re so thrilled to be involved,” said Laurie J. Becvar, senior associate provost and graduate school dean at USD. “The university became involved because they wanted that partnership between higher education and business … in helping to create a workforce for the future.
“We started talking about ideas,” she said, “and that’s when we forged the Information Technology Consultant Academy. It’s really an innovative way to grow our own workforce for South Dakota and specifically for this company.”
The Information Technology Consultant Academy integrates four undergraduate courses with an internship, which will provide participants a unique credential entering an IT-related profession.
Enrollees in the academy will take four undergraduate courses – two in computer sciences and two in business – to earn an undergrad certificate and gain 12 credit hours.
“With those four courses for the undergrad certificate, the tuition and fees are paid fully,” Becvar said. “That is a huge benefit, of course, to the students, because the students could use those 12 credit hours toward their baccalaureate program.”
Participants must also complete a paid internship, and then interview for employment which may lead to employment with Eagle Creek.
Those who seek employment at Eagle Creek may have the opportunity to pursue a sponsored graduate degree, including a master of business administration or master of science in administration, both customized for Eagle Creek.
A third option will be a master of science in computer science.
“Having no costs to the students is a wonderful thing,” Howe said. “The costs of the program are going to be supplemented between the company, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, and our community, with Vermillion Now! and other things of that nature.”
The institute’s courses will be available to prospective students, he said, via traditional delivery methods offered by the Board of Regents.
One class is already underway, and the university has begun recruiting people for the second class.
“It’s going to take a few years before we get a stable pipeline, but we think it’s going to be a good process,” Howe said. “You don’t have to be an IT graduate to be in this program. You’re not required to have an IT degree; you just have to show an aptitude for it, and they (the institute and Eagle Creek) will train you in the rest. It opens it up to anyone; it is not just dependent on one degree program at the university to supply this workforce.”
“Eagle Creek Software Services is putting South Dakota on the map as a hub in the global knowledge economy,” Costello said “Having the largest U.S.-based onshore software services company speaks to both South Dakota’s business environment and skilled workforce.”
“I think this is one of those types of companies and types of arrangements that have the real ability to change what Vermillion is,” Howe said, noting that young people attending USD will have greater reason to settle in Vermillion to work and raise a family.”