VERMILLION, S.D. | A provider of information technology services to some of the largest U.S. businesses has pledged to add 1,000 jobs in South Dakota in the next three to five years.

At least 200 will be housed in a $10 million technology center Eagle Creek Software Services plans to construct in Vermillion, officials said Tuesday. To help the company fill the IT positions, the University of South Dakota has agreed to offer a customized training program on its Vermillion campus.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard is scheduled to announce the economic development initiative Wednesday morning. The Governor's Office of Economic Development, the state Board of Regents, USD and the city of Vermillion partnered with Eagle Creek on the project, which has been in the planning stages for months.

"The collaboration that has taken place on this thing is pretty much unprecedented," said Steve Howe, executive director of the Vermillion Area Chamber and Development Co.

State and local officials said the initiative will provide students with the skills to compete for high-paying jobs in the world's growing technology sector.

"Eagle Creek Software Solutions' decision to expand in Vermillion is great news," said Pat Costello, commissioner of the Governor's Office of Economic Development. "The company's presence will present excellent career opportunities for bachelor and master level graduates in Vermillion."

The newly-formed IT Consultant Academy at USD will offer eligible students scholarships and a path to full-time employment with Eagle Creek. Beginning this fall, the academy will offer a four-course certificate program for undergraduates and a two- and three-year master's degree. 

Annual pay for graduates of the certificate program will start at around $40,000, while salaries for those master's degree will range between $50,000 and $60,000, according to company officials.

Eagle Creek's tech center, planned for a three-acre site in Vermillion's Riverbend Business Park, along the Highway 50 bypass, is expected to open in 2014.

The company will begin operating in a temporary facility in town later this year, and begin hiring its first class of about 20 students, said Eagle Creek President Ken Behrendt.

For the new Vermillion jobs, Behrendt said, Eagle Creek will recruit graduates from colleges from around the region and country. Hires must complete the company's own training, which lasts four to six months.

USD's new IT academy offers another entryway to employment. In addition to having tuition and fees fully paid, graduates receive a three-month paid internship and a job interview afterwards.

Behrendt said the USD training will various technology will help prospective employees "get up to speed faster."

"The more the knowledge they have, the better off they'll be," he said.

Eagle Creek, based in Eden Prairie, Minn., is the largest U.S. provider of onshore software services. The company, founded in 1999, specializes in providing Fortune 1500 companies services related to Oracle Corp.'s customer relationship management software. The clients, which the company does not disclose, are in the health care, financial services, insurance, technology and life sciences sectors.

Eagle Creek currently operates project centers in Valley City, N.D., and Pierre, S.D., which employ more than 300 people. The latter, which opened in 2008, started the company's relationship with the state of South Dakota that led to development of the Vermillion project.

In Pierre, about 80 percent of the company's workforce was recruited from outside the region, he said.

Eagle Creek emphasized its "Dakota" model of doing business in rural areas with lower cost than large metropolitan areas.

"Most people don't understand that places like Vermillion, South Dakota can compete against the world, and deliver the most sophisticated technology," Behrendt said.

Howe said the Eagle Creek expansion will bring multiple benefits to the Vermillion, which has a population of about 10,700. The project, he said, has the potential to redefine the local economy, creating more white-collar jobs for USD students with undergraduate degrees.

"Being able to maintain those students in the community after they graduate is what we really need," Howe said.

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