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From Site Selection magazine, January 2015

Dialing for Dollars

How companies are winning the battle for the best call center talent.

Farmers markets are a huge attraction in Imperial Valley, Calif., and a big reason why so many people flock to this fertile region near the Mexican border.
Photo courtesy of the Imperial Valley EDC


ow important is a call center? Consider this: 43 days of your life, if you are a typical customer, will be spent on hold.

That research finding alone from Fonolo ought to be enough to convince anyone of the importance of finding the optimal locations and best available workers for call centers.

Often referred to as customer contact centers or linked with business process outsourcing (BPO), these facilities and their workforce form the backbone of the customer service industry. When executed properly, these operations help improve a company’s bottom line. When they perform below expectations, CEOs and other corporate executives get fired.


"The Blue Angels train here year round because of our weather, and crops are grown here 365 days a year."

Tim Kelley, president and CEO of the Imperial Valley Economic Development Corp.

Figuring out the best strategies for operating call centers often falls on the desks of IT directors and their service providers. Finding the best locations for call centers falls to corporate site selectors and other executives charged with real estate direction and optimization.

According to the Conway New Plant Database, the Southern US garnered more large call center investments than any other region of the country last year. Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oklahoma and Kentucky all recorded multiple large-scale investments in this sector in 2014. In fact, of the 55 biggest labor investments in call centers, 43 of them landed in the South.

Chime Solutions Inc. in Morrow, Ga., recorded the year’s biggest project: 1,120 new jobs in a $4.6-million investment in 65,000 sq. ft. (6,038 sq. m.). Two other projects — at 1,000 jobs each — tied for second: Conduit Global in Memphis, Tenn., and Serco in London, Ky. Rounding out the top five were APAC Customer Services in Charlotte and Greensboro, N.C. (850 jobs), and TPUSA in Louisville, Ky. (750 jobs).

Internationally, the big location winners were Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and Latin America. TNT Express NV led the way by adding 1,200 jobs in Victoria, Australia, while IO Solutions created 1,000 new jobs in a call center investment in Prince Edward Island, Canada.

Ontario, Canada captured four of the world’s 10 biggest non-US call center investments in 2014: Alliance iCommunications in London (1,000 jobs); Easy Home in Hamilton (400); S&P Data in Quinte West (300); and Atelka in Sarnia (250).

Utah, California Clean Up

In the US, customer contact center end-users are increasingly turning to locations which have well-established, highly trained, multilingual workforces. Two cases in point are Utah and California.

On Dec. 11, AAA announced that it will create up to 580 jobs over 7 years in a new member support center in Salt Lake City. The project represents a capital investment of $20 million.


A traditional mariachi band performs before a large crowd in Imperial Valley, Calif. The region’s large bilingual workforce is a big draw to call center operators.
Photo courtesy of the Imperial Valley EDC

The projected new state wages over the life of the incentive agreement with AAA are nearly $113 million. The Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development approved a tax credit of up to $862,645.

“Utah is on the rise and continues to attract outstanding companies like AAA,” said Jeff Edwards, president and CEO of the Economic Development Corp. of Utah. “AAA is a globally recognized brand that will play a vital role in Utah’s ability to grow its economy.”

In California’s Imperial County, adjacent to San Diego County and the Mexican border, the Imperial Irrigation District is growing its customer contact center operations rapidly due to the area’s talented workforce, according to Daniel Hurtado, supervisor of customer service for the IID.

“We are the third largest public power provider in the state of California, with 145,000 total power customers,” says Hurtado. “We handle all incoming calls here and we are now processing over 600,000 inbound calls per year. Our call centers are located in La Quinta, Brawley, Imperial, El Centro and Calexico. The employee really makes the customer experience.”

"This is a business-friendly climate.
Plus we have the available office space."

Tim Kelley, president and CEO of the Imperial Valley Economic Development Corp.

Hurtado says that IID selected these locations because they provide workers who are bilingual, multi-skilled, hard-working, service-oriented, loyal, dedicated and engaged. “They have in-depth problem-solving skills, and they have a quick-thinking thought process,” he adds. “That is exactly what we need. We also handle all emails, faxes and written correspondence at these locations, and we are looking into adding a chat option for our customers. Every one of our employees goes through 120 hours of training, a 3-month evaluation, a 6-month evaluation and a 1-year evaluation – and they must follow no less than 20 standard operating procedures.”

Hurtado adds that his call center workers must be adaptable, resourceful, analytical, knowledgeable and customer-focused. “As a result of our training, our call abandonment rate has dropped from 21 percent to just 6 percent, our average wait time went from 4 minutes to just 60 seconds, and our first-call resolution rate shot up to 87 percent,” he notes.

Mexicali Region Lures Employers

Tim Kelley, president and CEO of the Imperial Valley Economic Development Corp., says the talented workforce in the region is the main reason Imperial County attracts such name-brand employers as Ormat, Helena, Tenaska Solar Ventures, EarthRise and Synthetic Genomics.

“Roughly 35 million people live within a 4-hour drive of our location,” says Kelley. “Aerospace, IT operations and BPOs all have a significant presence here in the valley. Plus we have the added benefit of having some of the best weather found anywhere on the planet. The Blue Angels train here year round because of our weather, and crops are grown here 365 days a year.”

Kelley says employers prefer the bilingual, bicultural workforce that is available in the area. “Employers experience a very high worker retention rate in the valley,” he notes. “This is a business-friendly climate with proximity to San Diego, Palm Springs and Mexicali.”

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