CHAMPAIGN – Yahoo plans to hire "upwards of 100 people" from the Motorola software design center in Champaign and have an office up and running in a month or so, a Yahoo vice president said today.
"We've got offers in people's hands," said Kevin Timmons, vice president of operations for the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company. "We're currently looking at several options in the community for places to set down roots. This has to happen soon because we hope to be up and running in September."
That's perfect timing for employees of the Motorola center, which is scheduled to close in late August, eliminating 183 jobs.
"We were just blown away by their technical expertise and the quality of the employee base," said Timmons, a Mount Pulaski native who received a bachelor's degree in computer science from the University of Illinois in 1986.
"We get awesome employees, and the former Motorola employees get to work for one of the best companies in the world," he said.
Motorola's center is located on the north end of the UI Research Park, and the UI has been looking for companies to fill the void.
"To me it's very, very exciting," UI Chancellor Richard Herman said. "Obviously we're sorry to lose Motorola and we have concern for those employed there. At the same time, we've shown ourselves capable of attracting new talent."
UI Vice Chancellor for Research Charles Zukoski called the announcement "an affirmation that this is one of the hotbeds for informatics in the world."
"Yahoo will have a strong attracting effect. They're going to attract researchers at the university, students, and I think they're going to attract companies and other interested parties outside Champaign-Urbana to come see what they're doing. We'll all benefit," Zukoski said.
Exactly what the software engineers will do at Yahoo wasn't pinpointed.
"It won't be easily definable as a specific Yahoo division," Timmons said. "This is going to be an extension of Yahoo – it's going to be a Yahoo office with all kinds of activities that range across all the Yahoo products."
Timmons wasn't specific about where employees will work when they begin their new jobs – whether Yahoo will use the vacated Motorola space, locate elsewhere in the UI Research park or find some other space in the community.
"We're primarily looking within the research park, but we have some options outside the park," he said.
As for using the Motorola building on South Oak Street, Timmons said "there's absolutely a chance, but we're in the middle of negotiation on several of these (options)."
Motorola owns the land and building at 1800 S. Oak St., C. The university has the right of first refusal to consider purchasing the building. University officials have declined to talk about whether or not they plan to put in a bid to buy the building.
Worldwide, Yahoo has about 13,000 employees, and the Champaign office "will be the most sizable Midwest office to date," Timmons said.
The company has close relationships with other universities, most notably the University of California at Berkeley.
"This kind of goes with the overall desire within Yahoo to continue working with the best universities in the country and world," Timmons said. "The UI fits the bill perfectly."
Timmons would not specify projected pay levels at the new facility, other than to say Yahoo will pay market rate for engineering talent. He said the company will likely hire some nonengineering employees from Motorola as well.
Scott Pickard, director of the UI Research Park, said Yahoo "will fit in perfectly" with other businesses there. Those include start-ups in online social networking, search engine technology and data mining.
"I may be getting ahead of myself, but I'm hopeful this could have a ripple effect. Who knows what could happen," Pickard said.
When a "marquee" company like Yahoo! sets up shop in a community like Champaign-Urbana, it has the potential to raise the visibility of the UI, its research park and the community, Pickard and Zukoski said.
Herman said Yahoo! employs a number of UI graduates, and several professors have had individual research relationships with company employees.
Timmons, who said he visits the campus annually, said he came to town last fall with the idea of building corporate ties with the UI.
"I talked to people in the research park and university and found a willing attitude and a desire to work closer together," he said.
After Motorola announced it would close the center, Yahoo! held a couple large informational meetings for Motorola employees and others.
"Further interviewing is still going on," he said. "I think at the end of the day, by September or October, we'll have 100 new employees in Champaign."
Herman said developing the research park and bringing in companies like Yahoo helps fulfill the university's fourth mission – economic development.
"To me, (the announcement) represents the progress we have made and the developer (Fox/Atkins) has made in making this place a destination, a place to come to learn and create," Herman said.