Kamloops reels in call centre

Kamloops - a B.C. city best known for its logging, fly fishing and junior hockey team - now has another attraction to add to its calling card. The city, about a four-hour drive northeast of Vancouver, will be the site of...

Kamloops – a B.C. city best known for its logging, fly fishing and junior hockey team – now has another attraction to add to its calling card.

The city, about a four-hour drive northeast of Vancouver, will be the site of a $10-million call centre. Cincinnati-based Convergys selected the city of about 75,000 last month, after local politicians and economic development officials began wooing the company last summer. Convergys specializes in outsourced, integrated customer care and billing services.

‘We were looking for a strong labour pool,’ says Matt Conrad, a spokesman for Convergys. ‘Our customer service representatives (CSRs) are in direct contact with customers, so we needed both quantity and quality.’

The deal is the first to be signed under a provincial business development program called Linx BC, launched just under a year ago. It’s an aggressive joint government-industry marketing campaign that promotes B.C. as a preferred destination for call centres. Costs for the initiative are shared between the provincial government, the telecommunications firm Telus, and the cities of Kamloops, Kelowna, Nanaimo, Prince George and Victoria.

‘This will give a huge boost to the region,’ says M.J. Cousins, director of the Kamloops Economic Development Corporation. ‘It’s also significant because the centre will be going into a large retail site that is currently empty. The loss of business there meant a downturn for that area.’

Convergys and local and provincial officials expect the call centre to eventually employ more than 600 CSRs. Since about 80% of the company’s work is currently devoted to inbound telemarketing, Conrad says it’s expected that the Kamloops centre will specialize in that, too. The company also has call centres in Halifax and Winnipeg.

All levels of government chipped in with incentives to help attract Convergys to Kamloops. The B.C. Ministry of Employment and Investment is providing over $450,000 for training, while its counterpart in Ottawa is chipping in $1 million to train about 100 workers currently collecting employment insurance. The B.C. government, meanwhile, dropped its seven per cent sales tax on 1-800 numbers. Convergys has promised to invest $10 million in the 5,574-square-metre facility and is expected to begin operating later this year, says Conrad.

‘Call centres can locate anywhere, not just in Vancouver,’ says Mike Farnsworth, B.C.’s employment and investment minister. ‘And we see a role for call centres in our provincial economy. They are labour-intensive and while they don’t necessarily pay high wages, the cost of living in regional centres is lower.’ He added the province will continue to try to lure other call centres to B.C.

At almost the same time as the Kamloops announcement, Convergys said it had won a large piece of business from computer printer maker Hewlett-Packard. Convergys will handle Web-based sales and service for hpshopping.com, HP’s direct-to-consumer e-commerce store. Conrad said it was too early to say if the Kamloops location would be involved in that aspect of its business.

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