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Regional approach, cooperative effort lands 717 jobs

Vacant property finds new life as Cingular call center

The largest new economic development in Jackson County of 2001, the Cingular Wireless call center in Ocean Springs that will employ 717 people when it opens in early August, was landed with the help of the Harrison County Development Commission (HCDC).

“As far as Jackson County going out and directly recruiting these folks, I can’t take credit for that,” said Jackson County Board of Supervisors president Frank Leach. “They came to us. We didn’t go seek them out even though we had certainly begun to look at call center opportunities because it is the type of clean industry that Ocean Springs, especially, would want to entertain. I understand they (HCDC) were involved in the process of recruiting Cingular to Ocean Springs. Possibly a thank you would be in order.”

Brynn Joachim, commercial development manager for Harrison County Development Commission (HCDC), said Harrison County had worked for years to recruit a call center to Harrison County. HCDC worked with the officials representing Cingular Wireless who were looking for a call center site.

“We were successful in getting those prospects here for a site visit,” Joachim said. “But when push came to shove, we didn’t have the building that they needed or wanted, and Jackson County did. We were marketing Harrison County, but we knew of the vacant Wal-Mart in Ocean Springs. When that was of interest to them, we picked up the phone and spoke with Tracy Robinson in the Jackson County economic development office, and she took it from there and did her job.

“We knew that Harrison County residents were going to be employed by this new Jackson County employer, and that was a win-win situation for everyone. We don’t like to view Jackson County as competition, and we would hope we could work together to recruit business for the entire Mississippi Gulf Coast.”

Joachim said their office believes in regionalism, and that what benefits one county impacts surrounding counties. That is particularly true for Ocean Springs because it is located just across the Highway 90 bridge from Biloxi in Harrison County.

“You can’t draw an economic boundary line where one county stops and another starts,” Joachim said. “The Ocean Springs location was advantageous to Cingular in that they could draw employees from Biloxi and Gulfport, as well as over to Pascagoula/Moss Point.”

Joachim said call centers are considered attractive because they offer a competitive wage, and diversify the employment base by providing an alternative to service industry/casino employment.

Leach said landing Cingular is particularly important because of the recent loss of industrial jobs in Pascagoula caused by closings at the International Paper Moss Point mill and Rohm & Haas in Moss Point. In addition, recently it was announced that First Chemical in Pascagoula plans to lay off 70 to 80 employees, representing a third of its work force.

Leach said the jobs at Cingular are different from those lost in the eastern part of the county. Most of the jobs aren’t as high paying as the industrial jobs that averaged about $18 per hour. But the jobs are still very welcome, and another benefit is the respect that comes from attracting a new Fortune 100 company to the county.

Regional cooperation isn’t germane just to Cingular, Leach said. He also pointed to the cooperative effort of the three coastal counties when they applied for Coastal Impact Assistance Program funds. The coastal counties basically agreed to cooperate rather than compete for the $24.3 million in federal funds that are available to the counties under the program designed to provide assistance to coastal areas to mitigate the environmental impacts related to offshore oil and gas development.

Cingular Wireless, the nation’s second largest wireless carrier, is currently renovating the 100,300-square-foot former Wal-Mart building located on Highway 90 in east Ocean Springs. The building was vacant for a year after construction of a new Wal-Mart Supercenter a couple miles east on Highway 90.

When it opens in early August, the customer care call center is expected to employ 600 customer service representatives, 50 information technology clerical workers and 67 managers. The annual payroll will be about $21 million. A comprehensive benefits packages worth about 35% of the base salary will include medical, dental, vision, life insurance and a 401(k) plan. Starting wages will be $9.50 per hour with an average wage of $12 per hour.

The cost to renovate the building is estimated at $6 million, with a $9-million investment in the network and furniture. Cingular will pay an annual lease of $882,000 plus taxes, insurance and utilities. No tax incentives were given to the company to locate in Ocean Springs.

The Ocean Springs call center is one of six new multi-functional customer call centers that represent consolidation of 26 customer call centers. The company said the consolidation was made to take advantage of efficiencies and economies of scale. The total number of jobs may or may not increase. For more information about job opportunities at any of the new centers, call 1-866-4MYJOBS.

Employees of existing call centers will have the options of relocating to one of the new centers, pursuing other employment opportunities within the Cingular/ BellSouth family of companies or taking advantage of outplacement services. Relocation assistance and an employee assistance program are available.

The locations of the other new call centers are Ashland, Ky., Fayetteville, N.C., Johnson City, Tenn., Lafayette, La., and Ocala, Fla.

“Cingular is a rapidly growing company, and we’re continually reviewing all areas of our business to determine the best methods to provide the highest quality service to our customers,” said Mark L. Feidler, chief operating officer, Cingular Wireless.

Feidler said that Cingular analyzed many factors in selecting the cities listed, including overall operating costs and the ability to promptly build or move into a state-of-the-art center.

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.

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