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January 4, 2008


Don’t miss seeing Craig Newmark and John Sculley, among others, at the upcoming Southeast Venture ConferenceFeb 27-28 at the Tysons Ritz-Carlton. 

Jim O’Neill, President of Northrop Grumman IT, sees a crisis down the road for American high-tech companies.  With China and India graduating 500,000 and 250,000 engineers a year respectively, the U.S. graduates only 75,000.  That’s a problem for Northrop Grumman, which hires only U.S. citizens for its defense-oriented jobs—especially when half the U.S. grads themselves are foreign nationals.  Bisnow sat down with Jim to hear about Northrop Grumman’s initiative to address this state of affairs, which involves “on-shoring” tech jobs to rural America.

Jim looks like an all-American guy, but he grew up in County Wicklow, Ireland.  His family came over when he was 17 and Ireland’s unemployment rate stood at 30 percent.  The O’Neills settled in Cape Cod, where Jim’s father, a carpenter, found work within a day and Jim took a life-guarding job at the Hyannis Sheraton. Years later, the GSA invited Jim to give a keynote address at that very same hotel. Jim says it was such an emotional experience he could barely get through his speech.  Hey, he’s the American Dream come true! Or is it the Irish dream?

If Northrop’s National Work Force Center initiative works out as Jim hopes, it will increase the number of U.S. college grads qualified for technical work while providing jobs to rural areas and cost-effective labor to Northrop Grumman.  Under the plan, Northrop Grumman has opened seven National Work Force Centers in remote areas, like a 100,000 square-foot call center and software engineering facility in Lebanon, Virginia, which will employ over 400.  Other centers have been opened in Helena, MT; Johnstown, PA; Corsicana, TX; Rapid City, SD; Auburn, A; and, just this September, the latest site, in Fairmont, WV.

The helmet was a present from some muckety-muck with the Redskins, but Jim’s football loyalties still lie with the New England Patriots.

Jim says Northrop is making donations to relevant rural colleges to beef up their computer science curriculums—the better to provide a stream of qualified workers.  Northrop Grumman and the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority, for instance, have together put $1 million into the coffers of the University of Virginia’s College at Wise (near the Lebanon site).   

Jim was accepted to Boston College Law School, but when he saw the pricey tuition he decided to become a cop.  After three years of duty with the Manchester, New Hampshire police force, Jim’s wife Donna (whose eyes are unfortunately shut in that picture the O’Neills took with the President) told him it was time to upgrade his career.  Jim got a gig negotiating contracts for Sanders Systems and was on his way.   

Northrop Grumman is betting that the college programs will help fill job vacancies (currently, it has approximately 1,000 openings) and help prevent the labor shortage Jim fears.  Overall, Northrop is a $30 billion operation with 120,000 employees.  Northrop Grumman IT accounts for $5 billion of the take and is organized into four separate divisions: Intelligence; Civilian Agencies; Defense; and Commercial, State and Local.  It has over 5,000 active contracts, one of the largest being a $2.5 billion assignment (over ten years) to run IT operations for more than 80 agencies of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

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