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Southern: 32,000 and Growing

Southern: 32,000 and Growing

Southern Co., the largest electric generator in the country, still plans to hire 1,000 more people before the end of the year. Many of the job openings are in the unregulated sector, the company said last week. So far in 1999, Southern has filled 2,000 vacant or new positions.

"It has been abnormally high for the past three years I'd say. In 1998, we hired 2,400 people, and we thought that was high," said Mark Wolfe, manager of staffing for Southern Co. "The growth has coincided with the company's expanding unregulated service operations."

So far in 1999, Southern has continued to follow its demanding growth strategy. Southern Energy Inc. (SEI), the company's unregulated marketing arm, was a main reason for the overall company's 16% higher net income in 2Q99 compared to 2Q98. SEI reported $69 million in second quarter 1999 earnings, compared with $25 million for the same period last year. Because of its increased presence, SEI's workforce has increased. When the joint venture with Vastar Resources began, it had 100 employees. Southern said that number has increased to 300 currently and will rise to the 500-600 range by this time next year.

Southern has also purchased more than 6,000 MW in New England, California and New York so far this year. Included in this total was Southern's purchase of all of Orange & Rockland's generation assets for $480 million, which closed last July. Southern said many of the new positions are dedicated to managing this influx of generation.

Chris Womack, senior vice president for Southern human resources, said the changing shape of the company has required a change in its human resource strategies.

"Power generation businesses, which we are acquiring, building and operating around the country, drive much of our hiring," Womack said. "But we also require other skills such as information technology and financial specialties."

Some of the people will be put to work in Georgia, but many will be employed in New England, California and in the Midwest, where Southern is now doing business. "Most of the new forces are being employed in the design, construction and operation of the latest and most efficient power generation plants we can bring online," said Womack.

Although there is a tremendous amount of competition for talent, Wolfe said Southern is on target to meet its employment goals. "We've increased the amount of tools used in order to get the job done. That includes putting more emphasis on Web sites and using search firms. This shouldn't slow down within the next three years. We're already prepared to take on 3,000 next year."

He added that while the numbers have increased, they are fairly normal for a company with 32,000 employees overall.

John Norris

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