Should Missoula Be Rolling Out The Red Carpet For Cognizant Amidst Our Housing Crisis?

by William Skink

I always find the reporting on housing numbers kind of off-putting, like I’m being shown a nice house without being told its previous occupant was a serial killer.

I start getting that feeling right from the headline of this MC piece: Vacancy in multifamily housing tight in Missoula; economic recovery key to building.

Economic recovery? Like what kind of economic recovery? A local one? A national one?

The geography of this recovery–which is to be the “key to building”–is important because, if we are talking about housing, what does Montana have? LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION!

And they are coming.

Which is probably why we’re seeing this:

While the vacancy rate is trending up, the market remains tight. Area landlords have nixed most rent concessions and the median price of rent has grown.

Not too soft here in Missoula, unlike a far off land called New York where some markets are crashing.

The reason Missoula is not going to see much relief for people when it comes to housing is because tech, and mostly it is one name in tech making a BIG investment in Missoula: Cognizant-ATG.

Cognizant ATG plopped its headquarters in the partially gentrified Saw Mill District, a perfect location for a town shifting from extractive industry dependency (and quite nervous about its tourist flank). From the link:

Cognizant’s Advanced Technology Group officially opened its new headquarters in Missoula’s Old Sawmill District on Wednesday, announcing plans to recruit local talent and train them for the technology needs of today and tomorrow.

(pssst, think he’s talking about contact tracing employment opportunities?)

The Cognizant ATG Missoula Solution Center houses about 90 employees in its 15,700-square-foot space on Wyoming Street, with plans to expand the Cambium Place workforce to 125. About 175 employees work for ATG across Montana.

“This center is going to be our innovation hub as we continue to expand our portfolio both here in Missoula, in Montana and in the United States,” said Allen Shaheen, Cognizant’s executive vice president for North American digital hubs.

Cognizant, one of the largest professional services companies in the world, acquired ATG in 2018, seeking ways to find talent to fill IT positions in Montana and provide their employees a enjoyable quality of life.

I think now would be a good time to share a personal anecdote.

When I was being verbally berated by City Council person Gwen Jones for my poem at my place of work, and the discussion was hitting hard on TIF and the cost of housing, Jones said to me quite clearly (I am paraphrasing from memory): “You think it’s bad now, just you wait until ATG expands.”

That was November, 2018.

While lots of people are being financially squeezed and anxious about the future due to the pandemic, Cognizant-ATG, last month, reported to MC that they were BULLISH on Missoula:

While the city’s economy finds its footing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of Missoula’s fastest growing firms remains bullish on the future and is gearing up for another round of hiring.

“We see tremendous growth,” said Tom Stergios, senior vice president of strategy and corporate development in Missoula. “We’re confident we’ll be able to achieve that growth. We do have some facilities construction that’s underway – yet to be announced but underway. We’re very bullish on continued growth in Missoula.”

To encourage this bullishness, Governor Bullock gave his praise (from the previous link):

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock attended Wednesday’s grand opening ceremony, praising ATG and Cognizant’s role in Missoula and the AIM program.

With the development of over 34,000 private sector jobs in the last six years statewide and an increase in real-wage jobs, investment in companies like Cognizant and ATG makes sense for Montana, Bullock said.

Seeing a possible boost to tuition woes, General Bodner may finally have something to be excited about:

University of Montana President Seth Bodnar said he’s excited to continue a decade-long partnership with ATG and now with Cognizant, pointing out that about 100 UM graduates work at ATG.

“Today’s also an exciting start of a new chapter because we see a company like Cognizant with operations all over the world also making a bet not just on ATG, not just on Missoula, not just on Montana, but on the University of Montana,” Bodnar said. “We’re very excited about the emerging partnerships.”

Man, sounds exciting, all this worldly stuff Cognizant is up to, and totally not abusive, because it would be real unfortunate if a president of a university that got a book written about it for its rape culture again sent students into the arms of abusers.

I’m sure Cognizant is not, in any way, an abusive company, and that no quick online search will turn up any problems.

Whoops, I did it again. That link is about how Cognizant now contracts for Facebook:

Cognizant received a two-year, $200 million contract from Facebook to do the work, according to a former employee familiar with the matter. But in return for policing the boundaries of free expression on one of the internet’s largest platforms, individual contractors in North America make as little as $28,800 a year. They receive two 15-minute breaks and a 30-minute lunch each day, along with nine minutes per day of “wellness” time that they can use when they feel overwhelmed by the emotional toll of the job. After regular exposure to graphic violence and child exploitation, many workers are subsequently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and related conditions.

Hey all you out of work service sector workers, if you are already familiar with sharp objects, sides of meat, and blood, you might have what it takes to make less than $30,000 traumatizing yourself as a Cognizant contract worker moderating atrocious Facebook content.

Welcome to Missoula, Cognizant.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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2 Responses to Should Missoula Be Rolling Out The Red Carpet For Cognizant Amidst Our Housing Crisis?

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