Given the ongoing convergence of voice, data and computer technologies, it’s fitting that the Omaha area’s growing roster of telecommunications-driven employers reveals a mixture of recent high-tech stars and more established firms that continue to adapt to a digital-driven age.
Here’s a look at some of the leading companies in the metropolitan area (arranged in order of their arrival):
Monroe, La.-based CenturyLink, which bought out Qwest Communications in April 2011, now holds the local inheritance of the defunct Bell System. Qwest in 2000 had taken over US West Communications, which was created as the new “Baby Bell” parent for Northwestern Bell Telephone Co. and two other Bell companies by the 1984 court-ordered divestiture of the original American Telephone & Telegraph Co.’s local telephone firms.
CenturyLink remains a major provider of voice and data services in the Omaha area, having introduced 1-gigabit-per-second Internet service in May 2013. Some 1,250 people still work for the company in the area.
First Data Resources
The company was founded in 1971 by a group of Omahans led by P. E. “Bill” Esping, who had been persuaded in 1968 to leave IBM’s Omaha office and run a previous charge-card processing firm. First Data’s bread and butter still comes from the billions of credit- and debit-card swipes around the world that are processed by its computer systems.
About 5,000 people currently work in Omaha for First Data, whose parent has been owned since 2007 by the investment firm of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. Its main Omaha campus sits on the former Ak-Sar-Ben racetrack property, which First Data bought in 1996. After closing the deal on the site’s northern section, First Data donated 70 acres that became home to the University of Nebraska’s Peter Kiewit Institute.
Marriott and Hyatt hotel reservation centers
In 1971, the same year First Data was born in Omaha, the Marriott hotel chain opened a reservation call center in the city. Now called Marriott Global Care and Customer Care, it still employs more than 1,000 people and handles many of the worldwide hotelier’s customer needs. While celebrating Marriott’s 35th anniversary in Omaha in 2006, founder J.W. Marriott called the Omaha center “the mother church” among Marriott’s worldwide reservation centers.
Several other hotel chains also have operated reservation centers in Omaha, including Hyatt, which employs some 600 people at its Omaha location.
Omaha’s history as a telemarketing giant owes much to Gary and Mary West, who started WATS Marketing of America (which they later sold to First Data) in 1978 and then founded the company bearing their names in 1986.
The couple sold most of their stake 20 years later, but West Corp., which employs 3,700 people in Omaha and 37,500 worldwide, still relies greatly on the area’s telecommunications capacity. It’s the leading U.S. provider of telephone conference calls, handles many customer service calls for other companies and supplies cloud computing services. It’s also a leader in software for 911 emergency switchboards.
The opinion polling giant joined in the redevelopment of Omaha’s riverfront when it relocated its corporate headquarters, including some 550 jobs, from Lincoln to Omaha in 2003. Gallup leaders said at the time that Omaha’s telecommunications infrastructure was a major reason for the move, as well as its proximity to Eppley Airfield and its remaining Lincoln operations. The company has opened two Omaha call centers since its move, adding 400 additional jobs.
The online payment company has become La Vista’s largest employer since it opened the first of its two buildings in the city’s Southport East development in 2003. Customer support is the major mission of the 3,000 PayPal employees on the campus, one of the more prominent in the area with its frontage along Interstate 80.
Think social networking with a professional twist. LinkedIn resembles Facebook in connecting millions of people through the Internet. But it zeroes in on supporting their career objectives, allowing them to post their professional profiles, promote themselves and make business and employment contacts. Omaha has been home since 2006 to LinkedIn’s Global Customer Operations office, which employs about 120 people.
Council Bluffs captured a high-profile share of the metro area’s telecommunications-related business when Google, one of the leading Internet search engines, built its first data center near Lake Manawa in 2009. It subsequently added a second data center near the MidAmerican Energy plant, which opened last fall.
Google’s Gmail and Google Maps services also rely on the resources of the two Bluffs centers, which employ at least 300 people.
The firm also has set up free wireless hotspots in some Bluffs parks and donated Chromebook laptop computers to city schools.
One of the oldest Internet search engines, Yahoo came to the metro area in 2010 when it opened a data center in La Vista. It set up a call center in west Omaha at about the same time and recently expanded the La Vista operation — one of Nebraska’s largest data centers — to add customer service functions.
Between the two sites, some 400 people now work for Yahoo.