JCIDA weighs options for city call center

Concentrix will close its Watertown office on July 26. The Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency, which owns the building, is exploring whether the sell or lease it. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — To sell or to lease is the primary question that local economic development officials face for a downtown call center after its current occupant, Concentrix, leaves.

The Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency, which owns the facility at 146 Arsenal St., has created a committee tasked with evaluating the expenses and benefits associated with both options, as well as market standards that affect them. Committee Chairman Kent D. Burto said he hopes to have a report ready in the coming weeks, but doesn’t believe one will be prepared for the agency’s Aug. 1 meeting.

Officials, however, have not sat idle since Concentrix, Fremont, Calif., announced its plans to close the Watertown center in April. Donald C. Alexander, CEO of the agency’s sister organization, the Jefferson County Local Development Corp., said four unidentified “community organizations” in the area have expressed interest and toured the site. The development official has also explored attracting a smaller call center operation that could bring 200 to 250 jobs, adding that few call centers that have employed close to 1,000 workers remain in operation.

“Certainly there would be enough room to accommodate that and a community based organization,” Mr. Alexander said. “We’ve had a couple of possible interests by, what you’d call, commercial-type folk, but that was more of a kick in the tires than anything serious.”

Concentrix took over the former Convergys operations in the one-time F.W. Woolworth department store building after its parent company, Synnex Corp., purchased Convergys and its 40 operations in October. When the company took over Convergys, it had about 600 employees in the city.

In about four months, however, the company revealed planned layoffs for more than 200 workers by July after a client canceled two services it provided from Watertown, but that number has since declined due to layoffs.

Sarah Cassidy, senior director of internal marketing and communications for Concentrix, wrote in an email that the company plans to close the Watertown center by July 26. Fewer than 200 workers are still at the site.

“All employees qualified, eligible and actively employed at the time of site closure have had the opportunity to apply for our many work at home opportunities,” she wrote.

Concentrix’s lease with the JCIDA will end Sept. 30. Mr. Alexander said the company provided payments through a payment-in-lieu-of-tax deal, although they equaled full taxation. Mr. Alexander said he would like to explore options for providing taxing jurisdictions funding similar to what they received through the PILOT, but the agency’s board of directors will evaluate that action.

In addition to attracting companies and “community organizations” to the facility, Mr. Alexander said he has also considered creating a space with resources to support small technology-business start-ups.

“A lot of people have ideas on how to take technology and turn it into a business,” he said.

Concentrix is the successor to a call center that started in 2003 in Watertown as Stream International, which promised 700 jobs and received nearly $14 million in state and local incentives over a 10-year period. Convergys bought Stream International, which became Stream Global Services, in 2013.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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