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Cottage Grove works to land call center
[December 26, 2012]

Cottage Grove works to land call center

Dec 26, 2012 (The Register-Guard - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- COTTAGE GROVE -- Galvanized by the potential of a new call center that would bring up to 250 jobs to the city, the City Council is looking at expanding underground fiber optic cable to the Village Center shopping strip on Highway 99 -- where the call center wants to open -- and hopes to get state grant money to help pay for the work.

The project became a priority after John Stadter, president of Roseburg-based First Call Resolution, said he was considering opening a call center in Cottage Grove, but that the 10,000-square-foot space he wanted to lease in the shopping strip doesn't have the fiber optic cable he needs for a high-volume call center.

Stadter said he's willing to pay for an above-ground cable to the center, but the city development code specifies that "all new utility lines ... shall be placed underground." An initial city estimate found that installing a fiber optic cable underground to the proposed call center location would cost about $450,000, which Stadter said was "prohibitive." The council has now approved funding for an engineer to draw up a construction plan for the cable work, which would pave the way for an application for a state economic development grant to help pay for running underground cable to the Village Center, City Manager Richard Meyers said earlier this month. Even if Stadter opts not to open a call center in Cottage Grove, it still makes sense for the city to extend fiber optic cable to the that property, Meyers said.

The engineer will start work in mid-January, Meyers said. The construction plans will yield a more accurate estimate of the cost of the project, which is needed before the city seeks state lottery dollars for economic development, Meyers said. Meyers said the cost of connecting the Village Center in the north part of the city with the existing seven miles of fiber optic cable in the south part of the city will likely be much lower than the initial estimate of up to $450,000.

Extending fiber optic cable to the Village Center will make the city more attractive to First Call and to any other businesses that need modern broadband capabilities to transmit a high volume of data, city officials decided.

Firm still might pay share The city's immediate focus is on First Call.

"If we can get grant money from the state economic development or lottery funds to bring (an initial) 100 jobs into town, and (Stadter) can turn that money that he would've spent on infrastructure and put it into equipment in the building or remodeling the building, that's what we want to do," Meyers said. "We want to try and minimize his out-of-pocket expense to try and get him here." They may still come up with a deal in which First Call pays a portion of the cost of installing the cable underground, spending the same or less than the company would have spent to install the cable above ground, Meyers said. In any event, the city won't have to change or make exceptions to its code that requires new utility lines to be placed underground.

If the city secures grants and gets the cable installed, the call center could open around September 2013, training 80 to 100 people who would occupy a portion of the 10,000-square-foot building in Village Center, the city said. As First Call acquired new clients, it could add new jobs, with 250 being the maximum that space would hold. First Call is based in Roseburg and has clients around the country.

On Dec. 10, the council unanimously approved spending an estimated $7,000 to $15,000 to hire Eugene engineer Steve Dittmer to draw up construction plans. The city manager's office, working with the city's nonprofit Community Development Corporation, will use those plans to apply for grants.

A loan is another option Meyers said the city has almost paid off the $2 million debt it took on to lay that first 7 miles of fiber optic cable, so even if the city had to borrow money to fund a portion of the new project, the city could now afford to do that.

Another reason to do it now is that sewer lines in the Village Center area need to be replaced, Meyers said. If the fiber optics cables can run through the same trench dug for the sewer project, the city would save money by having to dig only one trench.

During his briefing to the council, Meyers mentioned an e-mail from Stadter that said the company still has a number of other details to work out with the property's landlord. The property is owned by Eugene-based Spring Investments, whose principals, Don Woolley and Tom Connor, have extensive commercial real estate holdings in Lane County.

Rural communities can be attractive because of low rents, Meyers said, but they can lose out on new opportunities by not having the broadband capabilities that many businesses need.

A piecemeal approach Getting the fiber optic cable to every home in the city is not realistic, Meyers said, but a piecemeal approach at strategic locations is a good use of funds from the city's perspective.

The commercial strip being considered for the call center has much empty space. "The whole plaza needs help," Meyers said. "We need to do something to see if we can get other things in there." If more businesses moved in and started leasing the cable, the city could collect money -- just like any utility -- from those who tapped into the network and use those funds to continue to expand fiber optic cable around town, Meyers said.

"With our fiber and what we've developed, we're within 4,000 feet of connecting" to the Village Center, he said. "That's how close we are," he said. "It's not a huge distance. We can do it. (It would be a) piece of cake to connect our system to his network and so all of his call centers would be on the same network." First Call has call centers in Roseburg, Coos Bay and Grants Pass.

___ (c)2012 The Register-Guard (Eugene, Ore.) Visit The Register-Guard (Eugene, Ore.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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