By Grace Wyler
The expansion of a call center that will bring up to 700 new jobs to downtown Youngstown is evidence of federal stimulus dollars at work, elected officials said Friday.
Just one year after VXI Global Solutions opened its call center at 20 Federal Place, the Los Angeles- based company has expanded operations with a new office on the building’s fifth floor.
The company, which employs nearly 600 workers on the building’s fourth floor, plans to hire up to 700 workers to fill its additional capacity, John Alaburda, regional vice president of operations, said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday.
The expansion is a $2.7 million investment, the bulk of which was paid for with a $2 million loan from the city. The city also provided $650,000 in cash and utility improvements as an incentive for the project.
The loan must be paid back within 12 months at an interest rate of 0.25 percent.
Local officials toured the new facility, praising VXI for its investment in the city’s work force.
“There are few things we can do right now that are more important than expanding economic opportunities in Youngstown,” Mayor Jay Williams said at the event. “This shows that the stimulus program is working — the stimulus facilitated the creation of more than 500 jobs in a very short amount of time.”
Although no stimulus funds were used for the expansion, the city gave VXI $600,000 to launch its initial operations last year. The company also received more than $700,000 from the state’s job-creation tax credit for the $4 million project.
The addition of 1,300 new employees to downtown’s work force within two years of the initial public investment shows how effectively stimulus funds can be used, said U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th.
“I don’t think there is a community in this country that has used stimulus money better than Youngstown,” Ryan said. “The bottom line is that we are making this thing work.”
Ryan, frontrunner in the 17th District election campaign, lent his political capital to U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson of St. Clairsville, D-6th, at the event, emphasizing the pair’s cooperative efforts to bring jobs back to the Valley.
Wilson has struggled to defend his vote for the stimulus bill as he fights for a third term against Republican Bill Johnson.
“We are sending a message that the Mahoning Valley is open for business,” Wilson said about VXI’s investment.
VXI already has begun hiring and training workers to fill its new space, said Justin Payne, senior director for the Youngstown office. Hourly pay starts between $9 and $10.