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Call center could bring 600 jobs

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By Chris Sardelli

More than 600 call center jobs could become available in Lancaster, but only if the local workforce meets specific criteria.

Keith Tunnell, president of the Lancaster County Economic Development Corp., said a call center company is interested in relocating to the city of Lancaster.

The company, which has not released its name, is comparing Lancaster’s available workforce with two other cities in consideration. The other cities have also not been named.

Tunnell said the company is evaluating skills and gauging interest from the community through an online survey.

The survey is available now at http://lancastersurvey.questionpro.com, but Lancaster residents only have a few weeks to participate.

He said the more people that participate in the survey, and who also apply on the Web site, the more competitive Lancaster will be against the other cities.

“They want to see if there’s an interest in the local workforce to work for a call center,” Tunnell said. “We know we have people with call-center skills out there, but the local community has to step up, take the survey and show they’re there.”

The company is considering several locations in Lancaster, but has not yet decided on a specific building it might move into.

Tunnell said if the company does move to Lancaster, it will bring competitive wages and benefits for those it employs.

“This is another step in the decision-making process, but it does not mean they’ve decided to relocate in Lancaster County,” Tunnell said. “They’re testing the labor market.”

This news comes at a time when Lancaster County’s jobless rate has been hitting record highs.

Despite falling in March to 18 percent, down 0.3 percent from February, the county is tied with Bamberg County with the sixth-highest unemployment rate in the state, according to the S.C. Employment Security Commission.

Lancaster County had a labor force of 29,626 in March, and 5,342 of those people were unemployed during the month, according to statistics from the SCESC.

“A company moving here would go a long way to lowering our unemployment rate,” Tunnell said.

Tunnell predicts the call center could make its decision on where to relocate within 30 to 60 days.

“This is why we’ve got to direct people to that Web site,” he said. “I urge anyone interested in working for a call center to go ahead and go online.”

Attracting call centers

To encourage call centers to locate in the county, the development corporation is hoping to create a local training course for prospective workers.

The program, which would help train workers in basic call-center skills, is being jointly developed by the economic development corporation, York Technical College, Lancaster County, the workforce investment board and the S.C. Department of Commerce.

“Call center jobs are pretty easily trainable positions,” Tunnell said. “This training program is a recruitment tool.”

Call centers were outsourced to the Philippines and India in the past, but many are moving back to the United States due to quality issues, Tunnell said.

Lancaster County can provide labor for call centers at a lower cost than many areas, including Charlotte.

There are about 30 call centers in the Charlotte area, and Lancaster could offer slightly lower wages than those in Charlotte, Tunnell said.

Tunnell said there are six call centers looking at locations in Lancaster County.

Many employees who worked at Springs Global’s Customer Service Center, which employed 650 people before it closed, would qualify for jobs at new call centers to locate in the county.

There are also many other non-manufacturing workers who lost their with jobs Springs Global who could transition into jobs at a call center.

“That’s been a draw for us because when call centers visit they know we had a call center in operation here before for more than 30 years,” he said.

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli  at csardelli@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 416-8416