NEWS- SNL abroad: Local firm expands globally

It was less than three years ago that SNL Financial moved out of its digs in the former Miller & Rhoads building on the Downtown Mall and into the fully renovated former spy center at the corner of Seventh and Market streets. And now the company has another new building– this one a bit further from the Downtown Mall. In fact, a whole lot further– in Ahmedabad, India, to be precise. But don't worry– SNL isn't leaving town.

"We opened an office in India in 2003," says SNL founder Reid Nagle. "We'd been leasing space, but we decided to purchase space because it gives us greater control over the standards and conditions."

The new building– at 32,000 square feet– is less than half the nearly 80,000 square feet of the Charlottesville headquarters. But it has ample space for SNL's 150 Indian employees– in fact, according to SNL, there's room for up to 375 employees in the new building.

Outsourcing labor to the third world– and in particular to India– is a popular practice thanks in part to the low cost of labor in those countries. But it's also a controversial practice.

"The question is, 'Does it take jobs away from people in the United States?'" asks Darden professor Patricia Werhane, an expert in the field of business ethics. "It probably does take jobs away from people in the U.S. How should we deal with that?"

Werhane says the answer is not yet clear.

"We can whine, because we're very good at that," she laughs. "But how can we think of other ways to have the competitive advantage? One of the ways is to have technical people who can do what people in other countries can't do. That's not true anymore, and that's a challenge for us."

Nagle defends his company's outsourcing practice, calling it good for business– and good for employees in both countries.

While he acknowledges in India the pay is lower and hours longer– "standard business hours are six days a week," he says– the building is new, clean, and provides employees with state-of-the-art technology. The building is not a customer service call center. Instead, the employees there are highly educated analysts– many with graduate degrees– who provide support through data entry and dissemination. The company, which publishes financial publications, offers benefits and ample holiday time to its Indian employees, Nagle says.

SNL's legal counsel, Dennis Rooker (also an Albemarle County supervisor), negotiated the purchase of the building with the help of Indian attorneys. He points out several other benefits of the deal.

"You have the time difference. Work can be done there while employees are sleeping here and vice versa," he explains. In addition, he agrees with one of Werhane's assertions. "They have excellent technical education in India," he says. "Consequently, it's probably easier to find technically qualified people there than it may be here at times. It's allowed [SNL] to expand the business and do a better job for customers."

Here in Charlottesville, SNL employees also have reason to cheer, says Nagle.

"One of the interesting things in terms of the economic dynamics is that our employment base has still risen in Charlottesville," he explains. SNL has grown from 231 employees in 2003 to 282 today. In addition, says Nagle, "SNL's wages and benefits have nearly doubled per person since 1998. It's enriched the employment opportunities for SNLers in Charlottesville and has dramatically reduced turnover."

In addition to the Charlottesville and Ahmedabad locations, SNL has offices in Pakistan, New York, New Jersey, Denver, and London.

SNL moved more than 250 employees into the former National Ground Intelligence Center building in July 2003.

The 32,000 square-foot building in Ahmedabad, India can provide workspace for up to 375 employees.