Above: Kelly Morgan, Ron McCall, Kenny Gilley, Jonathan Belcher and Todd McReynolds pose with a check representing VCEDA’s $5.6 million loan. Photos by Scott Robertson
By Scott Robertson
Frontier Communications subsidiary Frontier Secure announced on June 29 plans to open a customer service call center in Wise County, Va., investing $10.9 million and creating 500 new jobs in the process. The company has already begun refitting an existing 85,000-square-foot building in the Lonesome Pine Technology Park near the University of Virginia – Wise campus.
The company plans to provide customer service and technical support for small business customer accounting software, according to Kelly Morgan, Frontier Communications senior vice president and general manager for customer care. “We do have a partnership with Intuit and we will be doing some of that work here in Wise. The work being done in Wise will be in-bound customer care work. There won’t be any outbound calling, no sales calls or anything like that. It’ll be really high quality work.”
Todd McReynolds, assistant vice president for customer care, laid out the company’s timeline for growth. “We plan to have our initial 50 employees start on August 14. We’ll bring about 50 more employees online every month through the end of the year. The goal is to employ 500 people. We are a growing company. If this area proves to be as successful as some others, there’s always the potential to grow beyond that.”
One center in Florida started with 400 employees and now employs more than 1,500 people, Morgan said, indicating the Wise facility would have the opportunity to earn the same growth. “You open up, you do a great job, there’s no reason we wouldn’t come back and do more.”
The company’s choice to locate the facility in Wise made for a great hometown-boy-makes-good story about McReynolds, a native of Wise County. The company had hired a site selection consultant (Site Selection Group out of Dallas) to make sure it opened the center in the best possible location, but McReynolds worked to convince state and local government officials to go the extra mile to ensure the company eventually decided to locate in Wise.
Kenny Gilley, chairman of the Wise County IDA credited McReynolds with constantly calling to see if there weren’t just a little more the county or state could do. “He kept pounding us for a little more money,” Gilley said, “but he’s going to use it well.”
Those efforts ended up with the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority offering a $5.6 million loan through the Wise County IDA, in addition to the $2 million offered by the Virginia Tobacco Revitalization Commission. “The declining coal industry has left a lot of people hurting and we need and appreciate these jobs,” Senator Bill Carrico of the Tobacco Commission said.
“The role of VCEDA is to try to help the economy of the region diversify away from the coal industry,” Ron McCall, VCEDA chairman, said. “We could not find a better example of this than what we have today. It’s our privilege to financially help this project. This is by far the VCEDA project that will hire the most employees in our history.”
For his part, McReynolds credited the county’s two colleges along with local and state officials for stepping up to do what it took to attract the company. “They’re willing to invest in the region and it’s young adults. It means the community finally has something that will help the region retain this top talent, to give our college graduates career paths at a great company.
“Being an economically depressed area that has two colleges with 1,000 graduates a year with little to no opportunity locally upon graduation made it a good fit for us,” McReynolds explained. “We do higher-end customer service work and the community needs its millennial workforce to be successful. It’s a natural fit.”
“There are great people here,” Morgan agreed. “There are people here who can help us take care of our customers, and the number one thing for us is always to put the customer first. So we think this will be a great place for us.”
“This means good paying jobs for people throughout this region,” said Maurice Jones, Virginia secretary of Commerce and Trade. “The company made the wise decision of not going to Kentucky, not going to Tennessee, not going to West Virginia and not going to Connecticut.”
“I’m not sure where that came from,” McReynolds said after the news conference. “We looked at locations in South Carolina, Kansas and Georgia.” Regardless of the other suitors for the business, Frontier Secure’s decision is a victory for Virginia, said Jones.
“Virginia has 200 call centers employing more than 36,000 people. That produces for the state of Virginia an economic benefit of $11.8 billion. These call centers or customer service centers, whatever name you choose to give them, are an important component of Virginia’s economy, and 500 jobs is an important component to the economy here. ”
Even the lead-up to the opening of the facility is creating positive economic impact for Wise County. Frontier Secure hired Quesenberry’s, out of Big Stone Gap, Va., to manage the refit of the building.
Mike Curtis, who is in charge of the refit for Quesenberry’s, explained some of the efforts being made to attract recent college graduates to work at the facility. “There’s going to be a very nice break room area with large flat screen TVs hooked up to Xbox and PS4 video game systems as well as a pool table, foosball tables and, I think, a ping pong table.”
In the large room where most of the telephone work will be done, sound dampeners in the shapes of clouds will hang from the ceiling. This will create a friendlier, less stressful workspace, while limiting the amount of background noise at the same time. “They’ve put a lot of thought into this,” Curtis said.
Said Morgan, “It will have state of the art training facilities, state of the art workstations. It will be a really nice facility for our employees with a game room, break rooms with a lot of amenities. People will want to come to work there every day.”
“I’m excited,” concluded McReynolds. “It’s a wonderful company and a wonderful opportunity for the region.”