NetApp to add 400 jobs in Wichita, invest $85 million

NetApp, a high-tech data storage company, plans to add 400 jobs to its existing Wichita workforce of 450 employees, the company announced Thursday.

The average annual wage of the new jobs will be $73,000, and will focus on product development and customer support. The jobs will be added over a five-year period, beginning with 115 jobs in the first year.

NetApp plans to invest $85 million in equipment and renovation to its facility at 3718 N. Rock Road. The expansion was announced Thursday at a news conference attended by local and state officials.

“That’s a vote of confidence in the community,” Mayor Carl Brewer said of NetApp’s plans.

Joel Reich, NetApp vice president and general manager of the Wichita site, said the additions to its workforce won’t require the company to expand its facilities because it has available space in its nearly 400,000-square-foot plant.

The Wichita City Council and Sedgwick County Commission are expected to vote soon on a package of incentives, including job-creation performance funds. The Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition is working with local and state officials to coordinate incentives.

Allen Bell, the city’s director of urban development, said both the city and county will pay up to $418,000 in cash over five years. The money will be distributed to NetApp incrementally, based on the number of jobs it adds during those five years.

He called it a person-year formula, and said it’s an incentive the city and county have used in the past, including with Spirit AeroSystems a few years ago for a large expansion. Bell said the City Council is expected to vote on the incentives at its Sept. 11 meeting.

Steve Kelly, deputy secretary of the Kansas Department of Commerce, said the state will offer incentives to NetApp but said he would not disclose details of those incentives until an agreement is signed.

“We have worked with them, and we have made an offer,” Kelly said after Thursday’s news conference.

“This is a good company doing good things.”

Reasons for expansion

NetApp is based in Sunnyvale, Calif., and has 12,000 employees at 170 offices worldwide. NetApp came to Wichita through its acquisition last year of LSI’s Engenio external storage systems division.

The announcement comes five weeks after officials in Research Triangle Park, N.C., announced that NetApp would expand there by adding 460 jobs with six-figure annual average salaries and investing $75 million. The Associated Press reported that NetApp’s Wichita site was in competition with North Carolina for that expansion.

But Kelly said NetApp’s expansion plans in North Carolina were in the works at the same time the company was talking to state and local officials about a Wichita expansion.

NetApp’s Reich said the North Carolina expansion is for an existing data center the company operates there and a separate product line.

“The jobs tied to North Carolina were a combination of jobs tied to the data center and development jobs for the other product line,” he said, adding that he is not deeply involved in the company’s site selection processes.

“Wichita was on the list because it’s a development site. … But it’s not a Wichita lost and North Carolina won (scenario).”

Reich said a number of factors worked in Wichita’s favor to expand here. One was the existing workforce at its plant. Another was the “academic community,” including the computer engineering program at Wichita State University.

“It plays a big part,” he said, adding that the company “opened up a bunch of jobs here last year.” Graduates from the WSU programs responded to the company’s hiring “test.”

“We found that we had a lot of real, fast success in being able to do that,” Reich said. “I think if that wasn’t there we wouldn’t have made the decision that we made.”

He said the company also had success recruiting from regional universities, too, such as Kansas State University, Iowa State University and the University of Oklahoma.

“We talk to them, make connections with professors,” he said. “That plays an important part in the equation.”

Reich said Wichita’s location works in its favor, too, because it is in the Central time zone. It’s a more friendly time zone in terms of providing customer support as well as communicating with other NetApp sites across the country and globally.

Reich said the jobs NetApp will add here include new product development for its E-Series product line, positions such as software developers and engineers. The other area in which it will hire is for customer support positions.

“These aren’t call center” jobs, Reich said, adding that the people providing customer support not only have to know the technical side of NetApp’s storage software and hardware, but also understand how they work as part of a larger computer network.

“The skill set we need for (customer) support is not necessarily storage experts,” he said. “The skill set we want are people who understand information technology. They have to be able to think through the whole problem.”

He said the customer support jobs are for the company’s entire product line, not just the products that it develops in Wichita.

The Wichita plant was originally established by NCR. Since then, it has had four other owners: AT&T, Symbios, LSI and NetApp.