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Upcoming call center could bring more tech jobs to Anniston, officials say

The developer of a call center opening soon in Anniston says he’s excited about what the new jobs will mean for the area, and that there’s potential for even more growth once the company opens.  

Todd Davis, an Anniston real estate agent and a developer of the call center project, said Wednesday that in addition to the 150 call center workers Viiz Communications plans to employ, the company has discussed moving other IT development and professional technology jobs to Anniston.

“I’m excited about that. The opportunities are limitless,” Davis said.

Davis said Viiz Communications already has several employees working inside the building at 1809 Hillyer Robinson Parkway, and plans to open the center for a test phase next week.

Viiz Communications operates call centers in Canada, Utah, the Philippines and El Salvador, and handles call center services for large telecommunications companies, including AT&T, Comcast, Level 3 and Earthlink.   

A company official told Anniston City Council members at a work session Tuesday that Elwood Staffing will hire for the Anniston call center initially, but that eventually the company will hire in-house.

Elwood Staffing’s Oxford branch website on Wednesday listed job openings for a call center with hourly pay of $8.50. The jobs require a high school diploma or a GED, a drug screening, background check and a typing test, according to the posting.  

“We’ve got one of the lowest incomes, but we’ve got a low cost of living as well,” Davis said of the area’s pay rate compared to the cost of living.

Barry Robertson, Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce chairman, said Wednesday that news of the call center’s opening was well received by the chamber.

“There’s a lot of potential there,” Robertson said.

The Anniston area has had several expansions of existing companies in recent years that created new jobs, but Robertson said he can’t recall any developments recently that generated 150 jobs at once.

“This is going to be very important for the economy in this area,” Robertson said. “It’s very important for the local workforce. It’s very encouraging.”

And there are likely plenty of people in Calhoun County looking for work.

Figures the Alabama Department of Labor released last month show the county’s unemployment rate was 3.8 percent in September, down from 6.8 percent in the same month last year. Experts warn, however, that the drop in unemployment could be due partially to people who’ve stopped looking for work.

The county lost 679 people from its workforce from September of last year to the same time this year, according to the labor report.

The total labor force statistics include people who are employed and those who are unemployed but actively searching for work. Unemployed people who stop searching for work aren’t counted in the labor statistics.

The news that Anniston would be getting a call center comes as more of the service industry jobs are coming back to the U.S. after years of growth in the industry overseas.

Call center jobs are expected to grow in the U.S. by 36 percent from 2016 to 2026, which would be the largest area of growth among customer service jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In the U.S. in 2015, call centers were a $9.4 billion industry and employed 2.6 million workers, up from 1.9 million in 2010, according to a 2017 study by JLL Research, an arm of the Chicago-based real estate and investment management company JLL.

Southern states have the largest number of call center workers, but the pay for those workers lags behind call center pay in the rest of the country, according to the JLL study. Workers in Southern states in 2017 made an average hourly rate of $15.76, while pay in the West and Northeast was $18.38 and $18.70 an hour respectively.

The median pay for call center workers nationwide in 2016 was $12.98 an hour, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The JLL study also found that more call centers are moving to the U.S. because of geopolitical uncertainty in countries with large numbers of call centers, such as in the Philippines.

“Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines, has an unorthodox governance style which has bred unpredictability in the region,” the study states, adding that the country is transitioning from a K-10 school system to a K-12 system, which could temporarily reduce the number of available customer service workers.

Davis said that the call center jobs are important, but that the possibility of growing more tech jobs in the area is just as exciting. Viiz Communications will share its building with a data center owned by M2 Connections, Davis said.

Davis said M2 Connections has an “impeccable reputation” in the technology industry, and owns 240 miles of fiber optic cable in the area. Additionally, there are plans to develop the area where Viiz Communications is to open into a technology incubator, Davis said. He believes Viiz Communications will play an important role in those plans.  

“It’s really exciting to be in this place, and to be in Anniston,” Davis said.

 

Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.

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