Pay cited in debate over call centers

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By David Giuliani

The Connection call center is expected to stay open for a month longer than expected.

Meanwhile, a local economic development official points to a difference in pay when explaining The Connection’s demise.

Last month, The Connection announced it was closing its Las Vegas call center by the end of November, putting 57 people out of work. Now the center’s time has been extended for a few more weeks.

The Minnesota-based company blamed Las Vegas-San Miguel Economic Development Corporation’s recruitment of another call center, Vertex Outsourcing (previously called IEI Financial Services), to town. Connection has maintained that Las Vegas’ economy is not big enough for two call centers.

The issue between the two call centers came up at a recent City Council meeting, when Councilman Tony Marquez questioned EDC Executive Director Sharon Caballero about whether Vertex caused The Connection to close. Marquez praised the new company but added that EDC should have worked to retain the existing firm.

Caballero said the call centers had different types of businesses and contracts. But she contended that Vertex offered more money to employees than The Connection.

“I’m sorry that Connection turned this into a competition war,” she said. “They were not in competition for contracts.”

Caballero said Connection lost major contracts — something EDC could do nothing about.

Connection President Fred Weiner acknowledged that his company had lost major contracts but added that he couldn’t replace them because he couldn’t promise clients a big enough labor force in Las Vegas.

“The Connection was a solid employer for a long time. We created a lot of jobs and economic base in Las Vegas. We told them (local officials) that there would be only room for one call center; we said that in 1999 before we opened our doors,” he said.

At one point, he said, Connection had 300 jobs. He said the community traded Connection’s jobs for those at Vertex, which reports that it now employs 48.

Weiner said his firm pays $8 to $10 to start, depending on experience. Michael Trotter, senior manager at the local Vertex center, said his company pays $9 for anyone starting, whether they have experience or not.

Trotter said his center has taken fewer than 15 employees away from The Connection.

“We came to town understanding that we’d be small. The Connection is big. We had no intention of taking all the Connection people. We’re not trying to drive someone else out of town,” he said.

Trotter said that in his experience, a town the size of Las Vegas couldn’t absorb two 500-employee call centers, but it could have one the size of The Connection and the other Vertex’s size.

Vertex is in offices in a building on 11th Street on Highlands University’s campus. It is in space reserved for EDC’s business incubator program. Vertex is paying a monthly fee to use the space for two years, with an option for a third.

Trotter said his company’s focus is to make a comfortable environment for employees so as to reduce turnover. Employees have seven-by-seven work spaces, 19-inch computer monitors and $550 chairs.

“We want to invest in our employees. That way employees stay, and that reduces your costs of turnover,” he said.