Tech Firms Go Where Labor Is

Tech Firms Go Where Labor Is

By Bob Starzynski
Staff Writer

Several Northern Virginia companies are looking to open new offices elsewhere in the region to attract potential employees and ward off the technology labor shortage.

Government contractors SRA International Inc. and DynCorp are currently deciding where they can put new offices to better serve their employees.

SRA plans to open a satellite office in Maryland early next year; DynCorp is exploring opening a facility in the Interstate 81 corridor of rural Virginia, company officials said.

Government systems integrators have traditionally relied on satellite operations for handling contract work - the closer you are to the customer, the better you can serve the customer. But increasingly, the employees, or lack thereof, are dictating the location of their offices.

Other industries have started accepting the idea of telecommuting. Some workers are attracted to a job if they can work out of their homes and determine their own hours. Commuting times are cut to nothing and parents can save on child-care costs. However, government contractors, like lawyers and accountants, typically work in billable hours. That requires close oversight by managers.

"We haven't done a lot with telecommuting yet," said Renato DiPentima, vice president and chief information officer of SRA in Arlington, Va. "For auditing purposes, we need to keep close tabs on work and time."

Tom Horan photo
"We haven't done a lot with telecommuting yet. For auditing purposes, we need to keep close tabs on work and time."

-Renato DiPentima, vice
president and chief
information officer of SRA

Telecommuting may be an option for SRA down the road, but right now the company has trouble attracting potential employees from the suburban Maryland market. "Recruitment is a big issue for us," DiPentima said. "A lot of seasoned IT people live in Baltimore and Columbia."

Columbia, Md., the mid-way point between Washington and Baltimore, is only 25 miles from SRA's headquarters. But the rush-hour commuting time between the two points is around 1.5 hours.

Consequently, SRA wants to keep a Northern Virginia headquarters but open a satellite office
in Maryland. DiPentima said that 100 of the company's 1,400
employees already work in Maryland for contract work the company is doing with government agencies there. Initially, offices were placed there because of the customers, not because of the employees.

According to industry officials, there are 19,000 technology job vacancies in Northern Virginia alone. Some of the larger systems integrators have as many as 500 openings at any given time.

Stephen Fuller, professor of public policy at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., said that there is an even balance of workers in Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland. But, he said, there are roughly 170,000 more jobs in Northern Virginia than on the other side of the river.

SRA will look seriously at space in Maryland at the beginning of next year. DiPentima said that he did not know how many employees will work out of that office. But he did say that SRA has been winning more government contracts that happen to have a Maryland component.

The company is not considering moving its headquarters to Maryland, though. In fact, SRA announced this month that it is planning to build a new office campus in Northern Virginia for its headquarters.

"SRA has carefully examined the home locations of all of its employees in the metropolitan area, and has completed a commuting time and distance analysis, which will guide the company in the selection of a site," said Ted Legasey, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the company.

"While SRA expects to continue to have field offices in the metropolitan area in support of certain major clients, it does aim to consolidate its activities as much as possible in a single campus," he said.

Meanwhile, DynCorp of Reston, Va., is entertaining the idea of an office further out in rural Virginia.

"I have a human resources firm in here to look at demographic issues," said Paul Lombardi, chief executive officer of the company, which has more than 150 job openings at any time. "One of the markets we're looking at is the I-81 corridor" between Hagerstown, Md., and Roanoke, Va.

DynCorp already has offices in Rockville and Laurel, Md. Lombardi said that even if the company opened another office in Maryland, the labor issue would not go away. "Maryland has job vacancies, too. We're just running out of talent here."

His idea of an office along I-81 is to get closer to James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where a lot of the technical talent is coming from.

Lombardi did not give a time frame for DynCorp's office search.

The bottom line, said Fuller, is that the technology labor shortage is a factor regardless of where a company puts an office. "People in that industry are not sitting on street corners looking for jobs."

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