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A Stream Runs Through It
Matt Kochan
COO, Stream International

   The Canadian connection is certainly not a far reach: Some in the Canadian capital of Ottawa will drive to Syracuse to grab a cheaper flight. But between those two cities is another area — the Thousand Islands region centered around Watertown — that could probably benefit from an airport expansion. Already the region is trying to capitalize on its corridor geography in relation to Toronto, Ottawa and Montréal.
   This is also an area with a heavy military heritage. But in the case of the Thousand Islands region, Fort Drum, home to the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army, isn't going anywhere. In fact, its amazing growth figures to become a vital part of the area's growing services and manufacturing economy, as tours of duty are due to be lengthened from four to seven years.
   Evidence can be seen firsthand in the heart of downtown Watertown, in Jefferson County, where specialty paper manufacturers still run
Jefferson County's mill heritage is still alive even as the area economy diversifies. Thanks to recent rehab efforts, the Black River is more alive than ever.
alongside the Black River. But also along the river's banks is a 70,000-sq.-ft. (6,503 sq.-m.) Stream International call center, located in the former Woolworth's building, owned by the Jefferson County Industrial Development Authority.
   An incentive package helped lure the Richardson, Texas-based company to Watertown. Among its provisions: a loan, a 10-year real estate tax break and a $3-million line of credit. Stream also has recently opened a center in Dublin, Ireland. A Canadian facility in Belleville, Ont., opened a few years ago, and the company is now evaluating a companion Canadian site.
   Tim Read, site director for Stream, says the "courting" in Jefferson Co. began in January 2002, and the facility's first call came in February 2003. Among the center's major clients are Samsung and Sirius Satellite Radio. Interviewed in July 2005, Read said the company was looking to double its staff by Labor Day, and perhaps add 250 more if a particular contract came through. Ultimately, by the fourth quarter of 2005, he anticipated the center would employ 600 agents, 30 senior agents, 30 supervisors and three service delivery managers. He lauded the area's large Spanish-speaking capability, as well as a smaller percentage of Korean speakers. Larry Callahan, senior vice president of corporate services, says Jefferson Co. Job Development Corp. helped find the Korean-language resources through two local churches.
   Read's colleague Michael Hill, manager of human resources, said the company has seen a good response to its ads, and has recruited from as far away as Potsdam and Gouverneur. The facility reports an impressive attrition rate of only 7.4 percent. Wages begin at $7.35 and go up to $9.25 for technical positions. Befitting the area's high-tourist economy, he says the company has no problem re-hiring some employees after they "summer elsewhere." The company was looking at placing a childcare facility on site, but now is in discussions with other community stakeholders on the possibility of placing it elsewhere in town.
   "The military base close by made Watertown attractive," says Matt Kochan, Stream COO. "We looked for a good labor pool, good work ethic and skills, a decent education level, and an area that could use some employment."
Car-Freshner Corporation in Watertown
Car-Freshner Corporation, the maker of the original tree-shaped car freshener, was founded in Watertown more than 50 years ago, and has expanded numerous times in recent years.

   All that was found in Jefferson County. Kochan confirms that hiring has moved faster than anticipated, and that the company might be in "cramped conditions" already by the winter of 2005-06. His colleague Callahan says it's all part of the company's steady "smart shore" process, whereby it measures customer needs, call types, migrating and shifting work and the incoming business pipeline in choosing locations and capacities for its centers.
   Kochan says the change in the military tour of duty makes Watertown "far more attractive" than it has been already. Callahan says that for the next location after the forthcoming Canadian site, a lower-cost U.S. market may be under the radar, given currency exchange rates. But the company wants to be careful it doesn't saturate the area employment picture too quickly.
   Both executives relate recent wintertime blizzard experiences at facilities in Watertown and in Cape Breton, N.S., where company policy combined with local work ethic to produce nary a blip in customer service.
   "It's all about price vs. value today," says Kochan, "and we've found Watertown has given us a very good price for the value."

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