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Technology Highlights
May 2002


Urban/Inner-City Strategy For Call Center Locations

By James Beatty, NCS International

The Urban/Inner-City strategy focuses on the placement of call centers in metropolitan areas, but in areas of cities that may have been or are historically overlooked. These areas will probably be characterized by city planners and chamber of commerce officials as depressed, blighted and economically challenged. Many of the areas are majority ethnic in terms of population and as such suffer from stereotypes that have been born through misinformation and misunderstanding. These areas may even have names like ghettos and barrios.

As such, these diamonds in the rough are also home to underutilized, overlooked and undervalued potential employees of your call center operation who, if given a chance, properly trained and competitively compensated, can become some of the most productive workers in your organization.

The fact of the matter is that these are not the areas and sites that you, as a prospect, are shown by the realtors, economic developers and city officials. These areas are not the easiest ones to sell to corporations that want their call center operational in 90 days or less. Therein lies the hidden treasure. Since these areas have not been positioned as the priority sites and since these areas have been historically overlooked, guess what, there is an abundance of untapped labor in the 18 to 35 age range anxious to take your jobs. Yes, anxious and eager to work in the environment that great companies create for their call centers; yes, anxious to work close to home; yes, anxious to learn and work in an exciting industry; and yes, ready to move your contact center to new heights. Are you ready to start asking the city officials and economic developers about these locations? If you aren't, chances are you will never hear about them.

If the concerns about tight labor markets are still valid within the call center industry, then these areas have to at least be considered in your next round of site decisions, as the labor is there in abundance. In fact, your company will be heralded for its foresight in seeking these locations and will be eligible to receive significant financial assistance in the capitalization and operational costs associated with establishing these facilities. In some cases these costs may even be borne by various social organizations that have historically served these areas. A case in point is the Urban League in Albany, New York, which built a 24,000-square-foot facility, equipped it with workstations and was willing to issue bonds in order to assist a qualified call center candidate to come into their community.

Downtown Memphis, Tennessee is aggressively marketing its area as a call center location. Go to www.callcentersites.net to learn of the availability of workers adjacent to downtown who can easily take the bus to work. Go to www.netparktampabay.com to learn about a 1.1million-square-foot shopping mall that had been closed for years in a forgotten and ignored area of town. It now has been converted to a call center campus complete with food court, nearby day care and inner-city residents as workers.

These cases serve to make the point well, as they are not the easiest to market, but offer tremendous upside possibilities for the companies and the cities willing to invest in their people as well as their property.

Perhaps the best example to champion the case for the Urban/Inner-City strategy is the Sprint call center located in the historic 18th and Vine area in Kansas City, Missouri. The center, which opened in 1997, is housed on the third floor in the historic Lincoln Building and occupies 6,000 square feet and employs 50 people. The 18th and Vine area is in the heart of Kansas City's African-American community. Through the combined efforts and cooperation with the city, the mayor's office, the Black Economic Union and the community college, Sprint became the first major corporate employer to return to the area. As a result of Sprint's commitment, additional real estate development has taken place as well.

The Sprint call center houses customer service agents for their long-distance division, who assist their clients by handling technical support and related questions. The center must be doing a great job as this location has received the prestigious J.D. Power and Associates award for customer service every year since 1997. This location is also among the leaders within the Sprint organization in lowest turnover and attrition rates. This call center is a great example of how well your customer service operation could work if given a chance to locate in an area that wants to work if just given the opportunity to work.

In July 2001, UPS announced it had acquired for development as a package distribution center a 30-acre tract near downtown Atlanta in the Atlanta Empowerment Zone, which encompasses 30 poor neighborhoods around the city's central business district. The center will also house contact/customer service personnel. This investment clearly indicates the potential of an inner-city location. In fact, UPS is America's leading company in moving individuals off the welfare rolls, having hired almost 40,000 people through the Welfare-to-Work initiative.

I hope these examples provide some insight and inspiration to companies and cities to view inner-city locations in a new light. Please do not hesitate to contact me with your thoughts and comments at [email protected].

James Beatty is president of NCS International, Inc. and founder of www.callcentersites.net. NCS International specializes in corporate site selection, community analysis and marketing.

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