RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — The high-tech rebound truly has arrived.

Get your resumes ready.

Cost-conscious IBM is hiring workers. Will other companies be far behind?

Stock prices for Cisco, Cree and Nortel are soaring. The “buzz” is back in tech as more and more companies in the communications and technology sectors announce plans for new hardware buys. Wireless networking is drawing a lot of investment, and Voice over Internet Protocol is rapidly altering the face of telephony networks worldwide.

Bolstered by the upturn in the high-tech sector, Big Blue said Sunday that it plans to hire some 4,500 workers in the United States. The jobs will most likely be in software and services.

The Associated Press reported that IBM plans to hire 15,000 people in all, boosting company employment to nearly 330,000. That increasing in hiring would still leave IBM well below its peak employment numbers of 344,000 in 1991, The AP said. But the job market finally has a pulse.

“We’re bullish on the whole IT market in 2004,” said Garrett Walker, director of strategic resource management.

However, the good news was offset by a Wall Street Journal report that says IBM will continue to outsource some jobs overseas. Citing company documents, The Journal says IBM “expects to save $168 million annually starting in 2006 by shifting several thousand high-paying programming jobs overseas.”

The Journal’s story pointed out that a programmer in China would make some $12.50 an hour in salary and benefits compared to $56 an hour for a woker with similar experience in the U.S.

In its most recent quarterly earnings report on Thursday, IBM said net income increased more than 40 percent to $2.7 billion over the same period a year ago. IBM (NYSE: IBM) closed on Friday at $95.32, up $1.30.

That report triggered positive response on the Street; “The bounce up in the big-customer business is encouraging,” Steven Milunovich, an analyst for Merrill Lynch, told The New York Times. “I.B.M. is a pure enterprise business. They don’t do iPods or digital cameras or the rest of consumer technology. Over all, the tone of their comments was that maybe it’s our turn now.”

IBM is the largest high-tech employer in the RTP region.

Nokia goes with IBM

The hiring and earnings weren’t the only good news for IBM last week.
On Friday, IBM disclosed an outsourcing deal with Nokia. IBM will run IT helpdesk operations for Nokia and absorb some 430 Nokia employees in 36 countries.

The deal is worth some $250 million over five years.

Patent streak

IBM also reported last week that it had been awarded 3,415 U.S. patents in 2003. IBM has now been awarded more than 3,000 patents in each of the past three years and also has been awarded the most patents on an annual basis for each of the last 11 years.

According to the company, IBM has generated more than 25,000 patents in those 11 years, almost triple its closest rival and “surpassing the combined totals for Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Microsoft, Sun, Oracle, Intel, Apple, EMC, Accenture and EDS.

“IBM’s commitment to research and development has driven more than a decade’s worth of patent leadership and is a major factor in our emergence as the world’s leading IT, services and consulting company,” said Nick Donofrio, IBM senior vice president, technology and manufacturing, in a statement. “That said, we consider patents a starting point on the path to true innovation. What differentiates IBM from other companies is our ability to rapidly apply these inventions to new products and offerings that solve the most pressing business challenges of our clients.”

Maybe some of those new employees will add to the patent streak.

Rick Smith is managing editor of Local Tech Wire.