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Three national level announcements expected at conference

Southern Miss hosting call center conference next month

Hattiesburg — The potential importance of call centers to the state’s economy will be highlighted at an upcoming conference hosted by the University of Southern Mississippi’s (USM) Office of Research and Economic Development. The Gulf South Call Center Conference: Staying Competitive in a Globalizing Industry will be held September 19-21 at the Grand Casino Gulfport Conference Center and Oasis Hotel.

“The time is right for the call center industry to come out of the shadows and be recognized,” said Dr. David Butler, assistant professor of economic development and director of the international development doctoral program at USM who is chairing the conference. “We will share national trends and patterns in this critical industry. It employs a major labor pool of 3% to 5% of the U.S. working population, 100,000 to 140,000 people.”

Three national level announcements pertaining to the call center industry will be made at the conference, he said. Not ready to release details, Butler said subjects of the announcements will include the initiative of research, a professional organization and the university/business relationship. Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) executive director Leland Speed and Southern Miss president Shelby Thames will be among those making these announcements. They will also be among the speakers, along with Butler, Dr. Angie Dvorak and Ken Malone of USM and Bill Sisson of the Mobile Chamber of Commerce.

People who need to attend this conference include call center managers, economic developers at all levels, vendors who supply technical goods, elected officials and media representatives, according to Butler.

“Call center managers will benefit personally by learning how to position themselves more competitively,” he said. “It will help economic developers who want to attract a call center or have a fear of losing one. Elected officials should attend or send a representative from their office because we’re talking about solid, good middle class jobs with call centers.”

The pre-requisites for locating a call center in a community are availability of labor and skilled labor and infrastructure, Butler says. He feels these requirements can be met in Mississippi and says USM would like to partner with the state to create long lasting clusters of call centers. A cluster is a concentration of similar industries in an area that can borrow from each other and build on each other’s strengths.

“There’s a strong relationship between USM and MDA,” he said. “We have the ability to communicate to companies to help them make decisions and to ensure that call centers don’t go oversees.”

Butler spent the last 10 years examining call centers and the U.S. culture extensively before writing his book, “Bottom Line Call Center Management: Creating a Culture of Accountability and Excellent Customer Service.” The book was published in March of this year with great response.

“There’s a lot of excitement about the book,” he said. “It has had media attention and sales. With talk of jobs going to other countries, it’s a timely subject that ties in with the presidential election.”

Regarding the book, Butler has appeared on CNN’s “Lou Dobbs Report,” did a National Public Radio interview and was the subject of an Associated Press story. He says there wasn’t a lot of solid information out there for economic developers and businesses in the call center industry. Information in this book could improve those prospects.

“The challenge is that most companies in this industry don’t know a lot about this industry,” he said. “For instance, Xerox is interested in making their products and are not in a customer service frame of mind. We want to educate these industries on call centers so they make the best decisions they can, especially when they consider locating call centers outside the U.S.”

Butler says a lot of real data from the breadth and depth of his research will be given at the conference. Communities and call center managers can take advantage of proactive, hands-on information.

There will be three pre-conference workshops on combating turnover at call centers, formulating return on investment for your call center, and how to market your community for call center development.

“We will walk them through step-by-step on ways to reduce the 30% turnover and give proven methods of how managers can convert their value to the company in dollars,” Butler said. “And we will give a how-to for economic developers to communicate that they have call center friendly locations.”
Becky Thompson, director of business development and trade at MDA, said, “We expect services like call centers and back office operations to become an increasingly important component of Mississippi’s economy. So we’re thrilled to have such an outstanding expert as Dr. Butler help us in our efforts to make the state even more attractive to these types of operations.”

For more information on the conference, call (601) 266-4186 or log on to www.usm.edu/cice/ce/prodev/call.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.


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