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Is Unisys move to Bismarck part of a growing trend?

North Dakota State Roundup

April 1, 1994

Is Unisys move to Bismarck part of a growing trend?

When Unisys Corp. opens for business in Bismarck this April, it joins other out-of-state companies that have selected a Great Plains location for new operations.

Unisys in Bismarck will employ 125 to process the company's merged U.S. employee travel and accounts payable divisions and is expected to generate an annual payroll exceeding $2 million.

The Bismarck operation is part of a recent downsizing, says Tom Severin, director of administrative information for Unisys in Bismarck. Since 1989, Unisys has taken 30 disbursement sites down to three. Now those operations in Detroit, near Los Angeles and in a suburb of St. Paul, Minn., will close and merge in Bismarck.

The city of Bismarck offered incentives totaling about $1.25 million and an arrangement with three local colleges to assist in training Unisys workers. But, Severin says, financial incentives were not the key, and adds that what Bismarck and North Dakota offer is an educated work force.

"People are astonished at the level of employees in North Dakota," says Chuck Stroup, director of the state's Department of Economic Development and Finance. Stroup says the state has a lot of under-employment because there are college graduates who want to stay but can't find work in their fields. And some of those who left want to return, says Stroup, who adds that when a new postal operation was hiring in western North Dakota it received 100 out-of-state applications. "Parents are sending their out-of-state children the want ads because they want to come home."

In answer to those who contend that luring businesses from one state to another doesn't create jobs but only moves them, Stroup says that's the nature of business in the '90s. "We're not going to see many new companies," Stroup adds. But rural communities are apt to be the beneficiaries of companies that are redesigning and restructuring their operations, he says.

Companies like Rosenbluth Travel, which relocated some operations from Philadelphia to a small town near Bismarck, are setting an example for others, says Russ Staiger, president of the Bismarck-Mandan Development Association. A few years ago when he promoted North Dakota to California business owners, Staiger says, they'd say he was crazy. Now he says the response is more like, "What have you got that makes a Rosenbluth or Unisys move here?"

"I don't think we have to worry about being run over by a herd of buffalo," Staiger says, referring to two Rutgers University geographers who predicted that the Great Plains will revert to buffalo grazing lands.

Kathy Cobb