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Expedia Inc. vice president Scott Weismiller says the Washington company is adding 500 jobs in Springfield by late 2011.
Expedia Inc. vice president Scott Weismiller says the Washington company is adding 500 jobs in Springfield by late 2011.

The Expedia 500

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The southwest Missouri economy is about to get a major shot in the arm.

During an Aug. 5 news conference at the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, Bellevue, Wash.-based Expedia Inc. said its Springfield operations will expand to the tune of 500 additional jobs in the next year. The first wave of hiring – up to 100 customer service, financial operations and support positions for and – is expected to begin by September, said Scott Weismiller, Expedia Inc.’s vice president of service delivery and global customer operations.

“We’re going to be starting probably within the next 30 days,” he said in an interview after the announcement. “It’s going to be all levels and all job sets from hourly to salary, to all of our support organizations. It’s going to be a broad representation of what we do in the business.”

Because the types of positions will vary widely, Weismiller said he couldn’t provide an average salary range. But Gov. Jay Nixon said during the news conference that state incentives would include $5.8 million in Missouri Quality Jobs Program tax credits. To take advantage of the credits – which can be sold and transferred – the company must pay an average annual wage that is above the county’s average wage of $33,924, said Ryan
Mooney, senior vice president of economic development for the chamber.

“When we first started working with them, Springfield was in consideration – there were other areas they were considering, too – and that’s when we realized that they were qualified for the Missouri Quality Jobs Program,” Mooney said. “We made that part of the proposal and that got their attention early on.”

According to Weismiller, Expedia’s decade of history in Springfield reinforced the decision to expand here. On average, he said, the company receives between three and five applications per job opening posted.

“We know the market and we know the candidate pool it brings – it’s a great, deep pool of candidates,” he said.

Several local and state entities collaborated with Expedia leaders to bring the company’s work force investment to Springfield, said Mayor Jim O’Neal, who noted the company’s 500-job announcement is the largest made since he was elected in April 2009.

“Before I was mayor, this was in the works,” he said, noting the governor’s office, the city, City Utilities, Greene County Commission and the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce were among the organizations working with Expedia. “This is something that’s been going on for several years.”

In February, Expedia signed a five-year lease for 59,000 square feet in the north end of the old Springfield-Branson National Airport terminal. The total annual lease amount is $450,760, and the company has the option of five, three-year extensions. Expedia is in the process of renovating the space now, and expects to begin moving its staff from its 4124 S. McCann Court office in September.

A state bill signed by Gov. Nixon on July 8 encouraged the company to expand in Springfield, said State Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, who introduced the bill in the Senate.

“With all of the other work that the Missouri Department of Economic Development was doing with this company, I didn’t realize that they were concerned about the commitment by this state to our business environment and business climate,” Nodler said. “This little piece of legislation was an important statement to them about the commitment Missouri has to make this a great place to do business.”

The bill exempts online travel companies such as Expedia from local hotel taxes since those companies don’t actually provide rooms.

“What we did was simple. We passed a little bill that cleared up some ambiguity in state law to make sure that folks like Expedia were not double-taxed,” said State Rep. Shane
Schoeller, R-Willard, who attached the provision to a broader local tax bill, House Bill 1442.

Nixon pointed out that two members of his cabinet, Director of Economic Development
David Kerr and Commissioner of Administration Kelvin Simmons accompanied him to the news conference.

“Some deals only take one, this one took two,” he joked. “(Kerr) has been the go-to guy in job creation, and he has been very, very busy.”

In addition to the Quality Jobs tax credits, Nixon said Expedia’s incentive package also includes $1.2 million in new jobs training funding and $325,000 in recruitment assistance.

As part of the state jobs training funds, Expedia will be reimbursed for 50 percent of its training, which Ozarks Technical Community College administers, Mooney said, adding that training will likely be done in-house. The recruitment assistance, he said, is for work provided through the Missouri Career Center.

The collaboration between local entities won’t stop with Expedia, officials said. O’Neal pointed out there are at least three companies considering making an investment in Springfield, though he said it was too early to name names.

“We went to visit the head of a Fortune 100 company, one of the largest employers in the world, and they’re very keen on Springfield,” he said. “There are two or three projects that have real legs. It’s just a matter of timing and putting everything together, but the will is there on both parties’ parts.”

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