Call center could create 350 jobs

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

This is a lot to ask of a job fair: Prove to executives of a St. Louis-based company in eight hours that the local work force can sustain a new call center.

Do it and Cape Girardeau can bank on 350 new jobs.

Don't and the jobs go elsewhere.

That's exactly what local economic development recruiters, city officials and executives at National Asset Recovery Service Inc., or NARS, are asking of the Southeast Missourian-sponsored Career Fair on Oct. 17."I don't ever recall having that much riding on a job fair as what will be riding on this particular job fair," Mayor Jay Knudtson said Monday.

NARS, founded by Cape Girardeau native and company president Chris Buehrle in 1993, is considering opening a call center here but company executives have yet to be convinced that the area has a strong enough labor pool.

"It's not a done deal," said Mitch Robinson, executive director of Cape Girardeau Area Magnet, a business recruiting organization involved in the project. "They key thing is the availability of workers."

The NARS Web site describes the firm as a business process outsource company founded in 1993 as a collection agency. Now the company calls itself a call center outsourcing firm. NARS also has an 1,100 employee facility in Panama City, Panama, and more than 1,000 employees at a center in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Company officials said Monday they were not yet willing to discuss their Cape Girardeau plans.

The majority of the calls would be made to the center, Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce president and CEO John Mehner said, not from it. NARS' biggest client is Sprint Nextel, which provides more than 60 percent of the company's business.

"Predominately, they would be answering customer service calls," Mehner said.

The call center may also handle debt collection calls, officials said.

The company is considering several existing buildings in Cape Girardeau with 35,000 to 45,000 square feet of space, Robinson said. The front-runner appears to be the former Sears building at 2101 William St. All of the buildings being considered would require remodeling to meet the requirements of the project, Robinson said.

The company is also considering two other locations that are not in Missouri.

Robinson, Knudtson and Mehner all said they are convinced the area has more than enough workers to fulfill the company's needs.

"We can do it," Robinson said. "... But they want to make sure."

Company representatives will accept applications at the job fair from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and will gauge interest from the work force. Economic developers and Knudtson hope people wanting a job will turn out in droves to put NARS executives' minds to rest.

Cape Girardeau's unemployment rate stands at about 4.6 percent, according to the most recent statistics provided by the Missouri Department of Economic Development. The company should draw interest from workers across the region and into Southern Illinois, Robinson said. NARS offers full- and part-time jobs with benefits and would likely draw heavily on university students, Robinson said.

The company will pay $8.50 an hour plus benefits for entry-level positions. Supervisors will earn from $22,000 to $32,000 annually, and top-level managers will be paid between $30,000 and $50,000 a year.

Two of the original obstacles have been removed after three months of work, Knudtson said. Initially, the company was concerned about state incentives, but Robinson said he has a "full incentives package" laid out for NARS should the company agree to come here. Concerns about finding an adequate building also existed, though Knudtson said the Sears building seems to have put those to rest.

Now it's all about the workforce.

"I absolutely understand their concerns," Knudtson said. "The last thing they want to do is invest in setting up here and not having the staff to man it. But I believe this community can support that."

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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