For now, Sears decides not to open IT office here

In this Dec. 24, 2012 file photo, Joe Sedlmayr puts a table on top of his car outside a Sears store in Ocala.

Published: Thursday, November 14, 2013 at 4:50 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 14, 2013 at 4:50 p.m.

Sears Holdings’ plan to open a permanent information technology office in Gainesville for interns from the University of Florida is off for the time being, although the company plans to continue with the internship program.

Sears Holdings started a pilot program with 24 UF computer engineering students who worked at various company locations over the summer, including many at company headquarters near Chicago.

The plan was to open an office in Innovation Square staffed initially by two full-time employees to manage students who would eventually be hired full-time.

Keith Sherwell, who at the time was Sears Holdings’ chief information officer, said during a March ceremony announcing the plan at Ayers Technology Plaza that the office could form the basis for a larger development center in the future as the internship program grows and produces more experienced graduates.

Sears Holdings replaced Sherwell two months later by Jeff Balagna.

“After careful evaluation, we notified the university that we have decided against development of a permanent local facility in year one of the program,” spokesman Howard Riefs wrote in a prepared statement Thursday.

“This does not preclude the possibility of us potentially opening an office in the future.”

The interns have continued to work from a virtual office for the 45-week program since returning to school in August, he wrote.

Erik Sander, director of UF’s Engineering Innovation Institute, said he heard from both the students and Sears Holdings that the program has been a very positive experience.

According to Riefs, the company has already offered full-time positions or a second internship to many students.

“Additionally, we are already looking forward to year two of the internship program and recruiting additional interns in the spring semester,” he wrote.

Ed Poppell, who is responsible for developing Innovation Square for UF, said they have been talking to the new leadership at Sears to see what’s next.

“We’re being patient with them,” he said.

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