Empereon Marketing received incentive pledges totaling $200,000 this week from McLennan County and the cities of Waco and Lacy Lakeview as it prepares to hire 750 people over two years and spend more than $2 million on capital improvements for a call center at 1205 North Loop 340.
The Arizona-based company has leased a 68,000-square-foot building previously used by General Dynamics Information Technology to field calls related to health insurance options under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
More than 800 staffers lost their jobs when General Dynamics pulled out of Greater Waco, and Empereon will make hiring the displaced workers a priority, said Toby Parrish, senior vice president of inbound operations for Empereon.
The Waco City Council and McLennan County commissioners approved allocating $150,000 to Empereon from the Waco-McLennan County Economic Development Corp. fund.
Lacy Lakeview responded by pledging $50,000 to the company, which will use the cash to acquire a generator for the site, said Kris Collins, senior vice president of economic development for the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber started negotiations with Empereon in October and was competing with several other potential communities, Collins said to commissioners Tuesday.
She said Empereon chose Waco in part because of the readily available labor force General Dynamics was leaving behind.
Accounting for the call center’s increased taxable value and spending power of its employees, the $150,000 investment by Waco and McLennan County is expected to produce an annual average return of 36 percent and a payback in 2.6 years, Collins said.
Empereon will create 750 jobs, 83 of which will pay more than $12 per hour, she said. Total payroll will hit $10.4 million the first year and $15.6 million the second. Applying a conservative scenario for all positions, staffers will make an average of $31,200 a year.
“The actual average is $37,328,” Collins said in her report to commissioners.
Headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona, Empereon was founded in 1997 and operates six facilities in five states, including in a Houston suburb.
According to information provided by the Waco chamber, about 4,000 people work for more than 10 call and customer-contact centers in the Waco area.
Collins said that number does not necessarily make the area a hot spot for call center operations, but Empereon is taking advantage of available buildings and staffers qualified to field inquiries.
Set up for long haul
Tom Ramsey, who owns Total Placement Staffing Solutions in Waco, said his impression is that local call centers “come and go,” and that few set up shop for the long haul. They typically pay wages that do not inspire longevity, and high turnover is commonplace, Ramsey said.
“But the General Dynamics call center was a different animal,” he said. “It was assigned a specific task related to Obamacare, and it stuck around for about five years. Most of the local call centers are relatively small, though the C3 customer contact center in McGregor is an exception.”
That facility announced earlier this year its plans to hire more than a thousand staffers between this year and next.
Helen Underwood, owner of the Jack of All Trades employment service, said the McGregor facility has a significant number of employees who commute from Temple. Underwood said she does not refer clients to call centers, but as a veteran of the temporary staffing industry for more than 30 years, “it’s not hard to pick up information about where call centers get their employees.”