Knoxville Lands CGI Service Center

Cherokee Farm

Knoxville Lands CGI Service Center

The global information technology and consulting giant will invest $27 million and partner with UT to bring 300 jobs to the community.

by scott barker • February 26, 2021
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UT Research Park at Cherokee Farm. (University of Tennessee photo.)

UPDATE: This article has been updated with comments from Friday morning’s briefing on the project.

Global information technology and business consulting firm CGI Inc. will open a service center in Knoxville, bringing about 300 mostly high-tech jobs as part of a $27 million investment over the next three years.

Knoxville will be home to the global IT and business consulting firm's eighth onshore delivery center in the United States.

Montreal-based CGI picked Knoxville for its eighth “onshore IT delivery center” in the United States after a two-year search process. The firm plans to hire locally and will partner with the University of Tennessee’s Knoxville campus to develop its workforce.

Dave Henderson, president of CGI’s U.S. commercial and state government operations, said the project will create local jobs, engage regional educators, support area workforce development, and provide opportunities for the community’s students, graduates and professionals.

“We're excited about the opportunity to become part of the innovation ecosystem that is coming together in Knoxville, and being able to provide services to a global technology sector,” Henderson said during a virtual briefing on Friday with Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and other officials. 

One of the world’s largest independent IT consultants, CGI reported revenues of $12.16 billion in 2020.

“They have been searching for two years for the ideal spot, looking for a place that had a highly skilled workforce, growing economy, a pro business environment — found that and and more in Knoxville, and we are very pleased that they have made this decision,” Lee said. “It strengthens Knoxville’s reputation as a leader in technology, and in business.”

CGI uses its delivery center network to provide IT services, support and solutions to its U.S. clients, which include commercial and government entities. The company’s existing delivery centers are located in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Virginia, Maine and Wisconsin. 

“These are in areas not traditionally associated with the tech industry but it's where we find some of our best talent,” Henderson said.

Henderson said CGI selected Knoxville for a variety of factors, “most notably access to talent and a strong culture of innovation within the Knoxville area and the state of Tennessee.”

Lee thanked Henderson for CGI’s decision to locate in Knoxville. “Your decision to be here changes people's lives, and it strengthens all that Knoxville, Tennessee, has to offer to the community and quite frankly it strengthens the entire state,” he said.

Bob Rolfe, the state’s economic and community development commissioner, credited Tennessee’s “pro-business environment” for the ability to meet the needs of companies with a focus on research and development. “We are fortunate as a state to have a network of partnerships with institutions like the University of Tennessee that assist with advancing and building the talent pipeline these companies need,” he said in a statement.

CGI plans to work with UT, primarily through interdisciplinary programs in its Tickle College of Engineering and the Haslam College of Business, to build a “talent pipeline” for the Knoxville facility. The effort will focus on advanced analytics, cybersecurity and emerging digital technologies.

 UT Knoxville Chancellor Donde Plowman said the partnership with CGI will be beneficial for students and for relationship-building across the state. “This is just the beginning of what I know will be a fruitful relationship that will help us continue to increase our pipeline that will keep the best and the brightest students right here in Tennessee, where they will make valuable contributions to our community and the state,” she said.

“This is just the beginning,” Henderson said. “Our new IT delivery center in Knoxville is really part of a long-term plan that we have to engage regional educators to support the workforce development in the region, create opportunities for communities, students, graduates and professionals, and that's what's exciting for us.” 

Local officials referred to the effort to attract CGI as Project Hopper. Dave Miller, president of the East Tennessee region for First Horizon Bank and vice chair for economic development of the Knoxville Chamber board of directors, said landing CGI is an example of the chamber’s new mission in action.

“As part of the Knoxville Chamber’s five-year strategic vision, named the ‘Path to Prosperity,’ we identified five strategic platforms where our region is uniquely positioned to drive growth — communications, health, movement, power and security,” he said. “CGI is a valuable addition to several of these platforms, including security and communications, and a strong new partner to drive economic prosperity in our region.” 

The announcement did not include a location for the local CGI operation, but Allison Hallett, vice president of U.S. Marketing Communications for CGI, said the company is looking for space in or near downtown.

“We expect to announce the location of our temporary facility soon while we plan for the permanent location,” she said.

On Thursday, UT President Randy Boyd hinted that the UT Research Park at Cherokee Farm could be a possible destination in an apparent allusion to the project during the UT Board of Trustees meeting on Thursday.

"We have a goal to launch two new projects within the UT Research Park,” Boyd told the trustees during a discussion of the system’s goals for this year. “And we're hopeful there'll be exciting announcements in the very near future on that front."

Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon and Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs focused on the benefits for city and county residents.

“We're so thrilled to have CGI here,” Kincannon said. “Three hundred new jobs, but not just any jobs. These are the kinds of jobs we want being created by a corporate citizen with a strong character and record of connecting with communities.” 

She said the delivery center could help increase the city’s population in the 25 to 54 age range, a demographic that has remained flat in recent years. “I know that we have talented young people who grow up in Knoxville or who come here to come to the University of Tennessee, and they love our city because it's an amazing place to live,” Kincannon said. “It's got amazing natural beauty and amenities and cultural life, but they need a job to stay here.”

Jacobs said, “Innovation and technology, for those of us in East Tennessee, they're not just buzzwords. We understand that they are a vital and integral part of our continued economic success. A vision that we all share here is that assets like the University of Tennessee, like the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, our great workforce, as well as really untapped potential in areas like business development, will attract and grow companies like CGI.” 

CGI will begin hiring next month. “We've already started our search for job candidates in the region, and from among this really diverse talent pool,” Henderson said. “We're looking in particular for candidates with software development, business analytics and other in-demand technology skills. Many of those recruits will have an opportunity to work with CGI clients across industries — in manufacturing, in retail, utilities, healthcare, financial services, and the government sector.”

In a statement issued at the time of the announcement, Knox County’s legislative delegation lavished bipartisan praise on Rolfe and his team at the Department of Economic and Community Development. The department said it has supported economic development projects that have resulted in about 1,000 job commitments and $148 million in capital investment in Knox County over the past five years.

Republican state Sens. Richard Briggs and Becky Duncan Massey, leader of the delegation, said CGI’s presence would benefit local businesses competing in the global marketplace.  

“We are so excited CGI has chosen Knoxville for its new location,” Massey said. “This significant investment will not only bring 300 new jobs to our area but will also bring added value to companies in our area through their technology consulting services.”

Democratic state Reps. Sam McKenzie and Gloria Johnson said CGI will provide a boost to the local economy.

“I’m extremely excited about CGI’s coming to Knoxville and bringing potentially 300 new well-paying jobs,” Johnson said. “Software development and business analyst jobs are exactly the type of employment opportunities we need to bring to the Knoxville area.”