generaldynamics

Empereon Marketing is seeking incentives to move into a call center in Lacy Lakeview.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson, file

Arizona-based Empereon Marketing has struck a deal to lease a call center in Lacy Lakeview that General Dynamics Information Technology is leaving May 31, eliminating 840 jobs.

The company, which would hire a minimum of 750 people over the next two years, continues to negotiate with the cities of Lacy Lakeview and Waco over the incentives it may receive.

“We have finally come to an agreement today with the landlord, though we are awaiting incentive approvals from the cities involved,” said Toby Parrish, senior vice president of inbound operations, speaking by phone Monday.

He said employees of General Dynamics are welcome to apply for positions with Empereon, adding, “We hope to move forward with staffing the center as quickly as possible, so there will be little or no disruption in receiving paychecks.”

Local real estate agent Brad Davis, who is representing Empereon, confirmed that a deal is in place. He referred additional comment to Parrish, with whom he has worked for “four or five months.”

Kris Collins, senior vice president for economic development at the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, said she could not comment on Empereon’s entry into the Greater Waco market because of continuing talks relating to incentives.

She said Empereon may qualify for an allocation from the Waco-McLennan County Economic Development Corp., to which the city of Waco and McLennan County contribute. Money from that fund is made available to prospects only with approval from Waco City Council and McLennan County Commissioners Court.

Parrish said Empereon hopes to serve at least two Fortune 500 clients at the call center, “which will take inbound calls relating to everything from customer service to technical support.”

“I feel pretty confident in saying the pay will average more than $12 an hour, including incentives,” Parrish said. “These are all full-time jobs, no part-time, and we provide health insurance and a retirement plan. I was told the previous company had part-time and seasonal employees. We will be a departure from that.”

General Dynamics Information Technology will leave the building by May 31, and Empereon will occupy the facility by July.

“We have been in business 20 years, and this is our second location in Texas, the other being in the Houston suburb of Alvin,” Parrish said. “We love the work ethic and talent the state offers, and our arrival in Greater Waco is part of our Texas initiative.”

He said the center will need very little work to accommodate the arrival of Empereon “outside of a few cosmetic touches.”

“Our goal is to have a facility where we can do little more than flip a switch and begin operations,” he said. “I have a pretty strong feeling that a lot of the folks at the center now would provide a pretty good fit. We would like to try to keep their income stable. They are under enough stress as it is without our adding to it.”

He said Empereon has gained a reputation for promoting from within and offering opportunities for career advancement.

“Ninety-five percent of our leaders came from the phones,” said Parrish, noting that call takers can move up the ranks.

Meanwhile across town, Suzette Mansfield, who manages the C3 Customer Contact Channels call center in McGregor, said the facility soon will ramp up hiring, and she encouraged General Dynamics staffers to apply.

General Dynamics sent a warning notice to the Texas Workforce Commission, informing the agency of its plans to shutter operations that have been ongoing since 2013. The center assists those seeking health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act and has seen employment grow from 440 to more than 800.

It released a statement April 10, saying, “As of May 31, we will cease contact center operations performed in support of our customers in Waco, Texas. We regret that the closure of this facility will impact employees, their families and the community at large.”

At that time, Karr Ingham, an Amarillo-based economist who prepares a monthly snapshot of local trends, said losing 800 jobs at one time certainly is not good news for the community.

“But it should not be an economy killer,” Ingham added. “Waco has created 2,000 to 3,000 jobs over the past year. This may slow down that number a little bit, but if this had to happen, you would want it to happen in a place that is economically dynamic, growing and adding jobs, which Waco is doing.”

Arriving in 2013, General Dynamics Information Technology signed a 31/2-year agreement to have a subsidiary, Vangent Inc., manage the facility under a $28 million government contract.

Blue Cross & Blue Shield invested more than $10 million in the site, converting a former Kmart building at North Loop 340 and Interstate 35 into a call center in 2002. Its lease expired in early 2013, and it chose to let nearly 300 employees work at home with computers.

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