Vista provides support for military worldwide


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Posted Online: Feb. 23, 2013, 6:10 pm
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By Jonathan Turner, jturner@qconline.com
ARSENAL ISLAND -- With massive military budget cuts looming and the U.S. withdrawing from Afghanistan, it's a whole new world forVista International Operations.

The Rock Island Arsenal-based information technology firm -- with 116 local employees and 348 worldwide -- wants to expand beyond its mainly military client base and expects to add at least 300 new staff in the next few months.

"Vista is preparing to start work on multiple potential contracts," communications director Teresa Johnston said. "Once we get the green light, we may need to fill hundreds of jobs, both stateside and abroad."

Available positions (with an average salary of $64,318) include call center associate, computer system support specialist, database administrator, LAN administrator, system administrator, Web developer and application programmer.

Two major contracts Vista plans to get are doing IT and computer work for the 2020 World Expo in Dubai, and the 2022 soccer World Cup in Qatar, Vista International Group CEO Craig Roberts said.

Vista already has offices at a U.S. military base in Kuwait and nine bases in Afghanistan. Employees who work abroad typically earn six-figure salaries, said Mr. Roberts, who recently returned from Afghanistan. .

"We have employees as far west as Hawaii and as far east as Jalalabad (Afghanistan)," said Mr. Roberts, a Marycrest computer science grad who started working for Vista in New Mexico in 1998.

He's had 200 people (many based in the Quad-Cities) work in Afghanistan for the military over the past three years, often for stints of a year at a time.

"The work we do in Afghanistan is for a subordinate organization of the Army Sustainment Command," which is headquartered on the Arsenal, Mr. Roberts said. "They're familiar with it. It improves response time being there. Those are pretty remote areas."

Vista's first contract in 1998 was to fix computers for a command on the Arsenal. In January 2001, it was acquired by Bristol Bay Native Corp., which is owned by nearly 9,000 Alaskan native shareholders.

In 2005, Iowa Congressman Bruce Braley convinced Vista to move from Alaska to downtown Davenport, to be closer to its Arsenal customers.

The Army Sustainment Command not only supports soldiers in wartime, but has been vital in humanitarian relief, such as the tsunami in Thailand, Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti, Mr. Roberts said.

"They're putting large amounts of supplies anywhere in the world. They have an amazing network of military, civilians and contractors that can just about do anything anywhere in the world," he said.

At military bases, the ratio of soldiers to support personnel (including Vista staff) is one to four, and thousands of Arsenal jobs are in that civilian/contractor category, Mr. Roberts said. Working for Vista gives him "anamazing appreciation" for the support provided.

Now, 95 percent of Vista contracts are with the U.S. military, but that's being reduced with troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Roberts now wants to focus more on nonmilitary customers, such as John Deere, especially with threatened automatic federal "sequester" cuts (half of which will affect the military) starting March 1.

"We know they're going to make some financial changes somewhere. For us to not see that as a signal, our business model needs to expand," he said. The private sector is "where I see our big growth over the next 10 years.

"The private sector is a different animal. The federal government has a procurement model, the process is very regimented," Mr. Roberts said. "We're good at that. Commercial entities don't have that."

Vista's experience and success in meeting cost and regulation requirements should help it win more private clients, he said.

Vista has staff at U.S. military bases across the country, as well as in Germany. In addition to IT services, it provides logistics management (tracking inventory) and engineering support services to government and private industry, including managing computer systems at casinos in Reno, Nev.

Vista designed a wireless system to provide accounting data instantaneously to banking institutions, Mr. Roberts said, adding that casinos used to have to shut down machines to do that reporting.

In September of 2011, Vista moved from Davenport to its new headquarters in Building 131 on Gillespie Street, on the Arsenal, after a $1.75 million renovation, paid for by the Arsenal Support Program Initiative. That's a federally funded program that renovates unused office and manufacturing space to lease to local businesses.

Mr. Roberts, whose major customers include the Joint Munitions Command, First Army, U.S. Naval Hospital and Air Force, said Vista outgrew its former headquarters at 4th and Main streets in Davenport, and now has twice the space. Parking also was a challenge in downtown Davenport, he said.

The year-long renovation in the 100-year-plus old building took the area from a storage facility to a sleek, modern headquarters that pays homage to its parent company's native, wildlife heritage with design elements evoking flowing water, trees, fish, eagles and bears.

As a subsidiary of Bristol Bay, Vista is committed to enhancing its shareholders' way of life, protecting their Alaskan heritage and focuses on hiring minority staff.Mr. Roberts said 37.6 percent of Vista employees are minorities, and that portion is 75 percent abroad.

Dino Pelagio, a computer systems analyst and Alaska native, met his Filipino wife while working for Vista three years in Kuwait. He grew up in Idaho and was attracted to the Quad-Cities in part because of its similar small-town, close-knit atmosphere.

"Our job here at Vista is very important," Mr. Pelagio said. "It goes to help the warfighter and military personnel. It does seem like it's a big family. My experience with Vista has been rewarding in so many ways."

Vista also gives back to the communities where it's based, Mr. Roberts said. Locally, it sponsors the River Bandits and Quad City Air Show, and is active in the Q-C Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, for example.

AVista Career Fair was held Jan. 31 at Western Illinois University-Quad Cities, Moline, to help fill new positions. It attracted110 applicants, but most local colleges don't provide the in-depth computer and IT training Vista requires, Mr. Roberts said.

Vista employees need afour-year degree and IT certification, and the company also offers employees $3,000 per year toward a college degree, plus $5,000 per year in interest-free student loans.

"It saves me money. It gives me a very qualified person," Mr. Roberts said. "If they leave with a degree, they're not going to be claiming unemployment benefits. It builds loyalty.

"The one thing we're not lacking in applicants here is work ethic," he said of the Q-C area. "The work ethic here is extremely good. I hire people all over the world, and there's nothing like hiring people from this area, because they know how to work."

To learn more about the company, including job openings, visit viops.com.















 



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