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Cape Girardeau call center to close; 400 jobs likely lost
About 400 full-time employees at Integrity Solution Services' local office face unemployment now that Charter Communications has decided to end its business relationship with Integrity, company representatives confirmed Thursday.
Stacy Spradling, vice president of human resources for Integrity Solution Services, formerly known as National Asset Recovery Services, said the company decided to close its office at 2102 William St. in Cape Girardeau after losing a major client.
"Basically, we have one client that operates in Cape Girardeau, and that client -- we've done a great job for them ... but the client no longer requires our support from an outsourcing perspective," Spradling said.
Spradling said the client decided to consolidate its customer service and call center operations and move them in-house.
She would not identify the company, citing contractual obligations, but Charter Communications spokeswoman Debbie Johnson confirmed that Charter is the client in question.
Johnson said Charter had "no problem at all" with Integrity.
"It was just a simple business decision," she said.
Spradling said Integrity is looking for a new client that would enable it to keep the office open, but the odds of finding such a client on short notice are slim.
"We are still trying very hard to bring a new client into this building," she said. "If we can do that between now and the time we're scheduled to close ... then hopefully we'll have some good news."
In the meantime, Integrity is working with employees to help them find new jobs, Spradling said.
Integrity employees earn an average of $10 to $13 an hour plus benefits, including medical, dental and vision insurance and 401K retirement plans, she said.
Current employees will be given preference for any available openings at the company's other offices, Spradling said.
"None would be considered a commutable distance from here, but certainly if employees decide they want to relocate and transfer to one of those jobs, they will be given first consideration," she said.
According to its website, Integrity, which has corporate offices in St. Charles, Mo., has eight domestic locations and facilities in Jamaica and Panama.
Integrity also is opening its doors to any local employers who would like to hold job fairs in the building and is bringing in outplacement services such as resume-writing and mock interview training to help employees find jobs, Spradling said. The company already has received inquiries about the building, Spradling said.
The company also will allow employees to take time off to look for other work if necessary, she said.
"As employees come to us with different needs, different requests for time off, for whatever reason ... we'll be very flexible," Spradling said.
John Mehner, president of the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber is ready and willing to help Integrity find another client, or -- failing that -- market its building to another company that might be interested in coming into the community.
"There are call center projects that happen around the country regularly," Mehner said. "Obviously call center workforces and call center buildings are marketable. We'll do everything we possibly can. There's no doubt about that -- we'll do everything we possibly can."
He said the chamber also would be willing to assist with job fairs or efforts to find resources for displaced employees seeking new positions.
Johnson could not say whether Charter will add positions as it shifts from outsourcing to in-house services, but she said former Integrity employees are welcome to apply for any available openings with Charter.
"It's not clear what our plans are at this point," she said. " ... I can say the employees who are impacted are welcome to apply for jobs with Charter."
Johnson said Charter has a few job openings in its Cape Girardeau office, but she did not know how many.
The closure of Integrity's local office comes just a year after it announced the expansion of its local staff, and six months after it changed its name from National Asset Recovery Services to Integrity Solution Services.
In July 2012, Integrity added more than 100 full- and part-time positions, bringing its total Cape Girardeau workforce to about 700 employees, the Southeast Missourian reported at the time.
That number represented a fifth of the 3,500-person workforce for the company and its affiliates, Pinnacle Financial Group and Integrity Financial Partners.
It was not clear when the number of employees dropped to 400. Spradling said she was not with the company at the time and was not aware of the previous numbers.
Cape Girardeau native Chris Buehrle started NARS in 1993 in Chesterfield, Mo. NARS opened its Cape Girardeau office in December 2006 in the former Sears building at Town Plaza shopping center.
In 2007, Buehrle -- then president and CEO of the company -- said expanding into Cape Girardeau was a decision he based more on business considerations than on his personal ties to the area.
"My heart is in Cape Girardeau, but when you have 2,500 employees, and you are responsible for not only their employment but their families' well-being, well, I have never opened up and subsequently closed a call center. When I make a decision to open a call center, I don't take that lightly," Buehrle told the Southeast Missourian at the time.
Buehrle could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The company's expansion into Cape Girardeau came after the city offered a property tax abatement for building improvements and a Community Improvement District for the shopping center that increased the retail sales tax.
Overwhelming turnout at a job fair -- where more than 850 prospective employees showed up to vie for about 350 anticipated positions -- helped seal the deal, the Southeast Missourian reported at the time.
Reprise Management Group, an affiliate of Miami-based HIG Capital, acquired NARS in December 2009. At the time, the company reported no employees would lose their jobs as a result of the deal.
In addition to insurance and retirement benefits, the company offered its local employees an on-site day care center, restaurant and fitness center.
NARS began as a collection agency but later expanded its services to include customer service, billing and other business processes.
Spradling said its clients include companies in the medical, telecommunications, banking and financial services industries.
"It really does run the gamut," she said.
2102 William St., Cape Girardeau, MO