By CYNTHIA VINARSKY
VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER
NILES -- An Omaha, Neb., company is one step closer to bringing 900 or more new jobs to the former call center that telecommunications giant MCI shut down in June.
State officials approved a 75 percent five-year tax credit Monday for West Teleservices Corp., a customer service provider that is proposing a new inbound call center for the 82,000-square-foot former MCI location on Youngstown-Warren Road.
Walter Good, a development specialist for the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber, said the deal is contingent upon lease negotiations and a tax abatement request the company has filed with the Trumbull County Planning Commission.
He acknowledged, too, that the company, a division of West Corp., is still comparing the Niles site to other locations it already leases or owns in Colorado and Oklahoma.
Good said the presence of a trained work force of former MCI employees could be the deal clincher.
MCI had a work force of 700 when it announced plans to shut down the center in March, and it once employed as many as 1,200 there.
"West owns a number of existing facilities in other states, but the availability of a trained work force here, trained employees from MCI, is very attractive to them," he said.
The tax credits approved for West Corp. on Monday by the Ohio Tax Credit Authority could be used against the company's corporate franchise taxes, provided it creates the promised full-time jobs. The credits would total $945,885 over the term of the agreement, and West would be required to maintain operations at the site for 10 years.
West is also asking Niles and Trumbull County to approve a 75 percent 10-year abatement on real and personal property taxes.
In exchange for the abatement, the company would invest between $1.8 million and $2.2 million in new machinery and equipment, furniture and building improvements, said Mark Zigmont, a Trumbull County Planning Commission spokesman.
West would promise to hire 400 or more full-time and 500 part-time permanent employees within one year of completing the project. This would create an approximate annual payroll of $14.4 million, Zigmont said.
West would have to repay any abated taxes if it employs less than 75 percent of the promised work force number after three years. The abatement agreement would also require West to continue operating at the Niles site for at least 10 years.
Niles City Council will discuss the abatement proposal at 6 p.m. Oct. 6, and Trumbull County commissioners are set to debate the issue at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 14.
Good said the Chamber has been working for several months with Chicago-based Staubach Realty, the company hired by MCI to find a new tenant for the Niles center. It found several companies interested in leasing a part of the building, he said, but officials were hoping to lease the entire space to one tenant.
"We're very excited about this one. It's a very good project by a very good company," he said. "I'm very optimistic that this could come together if we can finalize all the incentives and work out all the details of the lease."
In another matter, the state Tax Credit Authority approved a 55 percent six-year credit for Famous Distribution in Sebring. Famous Distribution proposes to create 30 new full-time jobs and retain 17 as a result of the proposed expansion of its 1999 operations in Sebring.
As part of the agreement, the company would be required to remain in operation at the Sebring site for at least 12 years, the state has said.
Based in Akron, Famous Distribution, Inc. distributes heating, ventilation and cooling and plumbing products to contractors.
XContributor: Vindicator correspondent Jeff Ortega.