COOS BAY — In a region that’s still clambering out of the Great Recession, any and all new jobs are welcomed.
First Call Resolution call center, 161 Anderson Ave. in Coos Bay, is beginning work to expand into the former JC Penney building next door.
First Call is based in Roseburg, and originally considered opening a sixth call center elsewhere in the state. Instead, officials wanted to see the Coos Bay center grow.
“A lot of our programs and clients that we work for out of our Coos Bay location continue to grow,” said Katheryn Carnahan, First Call’s chief operating officer. “Rather than trying to put a center in another location, we’re just going to make this center bigger.”
Call center staff provide customer service support via phone, email and web chat to a variety of companies, including start-ups, social media and tech companies out of Silicon Valley.
The center started out with just 30 employees when it opened in June 2012. Two years later, officials anticipate an additional 100 jobs with the expansion, pushing the center to nearly 300 workers.
“We’re one of the fastest growing companies in Oregon year after year,” said Aaron Grusi, director of Coos Bay’s call center as of January. “We’ve had 30 percent growth and expanded capacity in two locations. We opened a new call center in Veneta and now we’re looking at sites for our sixth location.”
In total, First Call supports more than 60 clients with nearly 800 employees. That track record bodes well for a sluggish South Coast economy.
“Call centers that contract with more than one company are better positioned to ride the ebbs and flows within various industries and the business cycle, versus a call center that contracts with one telephone service provider or one retail company,” said Guy Tauer, Oregon Employment Department regional economist. “Putting faith in any industry certainly has risk to it. But I don’t think you’re putting all of your eggs into the call center basket with 100 jobs. As fast as the economy’s changing, there certainly are no sure things anymore, unless you’re a funeral parlor director or a tax collector.
“In general, anytime you’re gaining jobs and companies are looking to expand, that’s a good thing, especially in areas like the South Coast, which hasn’t seen a fast recovery coming out of the Great Recession.”
But employment is picking up. This spring, Oregon saw its fastest job growth in nearly a decade. Over March and April, 15,000 jobs were added statewide, the most since 15,100 jobs were added over November and December 2005.
Oregon is adding jobs faster than the rest of the U.S., growing 2.6 percent over the year compared to the nation’s 1.7 percent, according to the Oregon Employment Department.
It’s taking Oregon longer to return to pre-recession employment, though, since the state lost more jobs during the recession and crept out slowly in the following years.
Unemployment statewide remained stagnant in April at 6.9 percent. It’s sinking at about the same rate in Coos County, but it’s still higher, at 9.1 percent in March.
The county’s total employment in March was 21,300. Tauer said 100 jobs is a big deal in a relatively small labor market.
“Adding 100 jobs makes more of an impact in Coos County than it would in Multnomah County,” he said.
First Call was voted for the last two years as one of The Oregonian’s top workplaces in the state.
“We’re a destination employer within the community of Coos Bay and we’ve got really great clients here who want to grow with us,” Grusi said.
Herb Yussim, Oregon Bay Properties co-owner and broker, said the space needs a lot of renovations to bring it up to the call center’s standards, including improving the HVAC system and opening a wall between the two spaces to make one large office. The store was built in the 1950s.
“In speaking with many people who have been in the building, they have fond memories of their first pair of shoes, their first suit that they purchased in that building,” Yussim said.
Demolition and clean-up will start soon, Carnahan said, with completion slated for sometime in August or September. Grusi said there will be career fairs this summer.
In 2013, the median hourly wage for customer service representatives in Coos and Curry counties was $14.22, lower than the state’s $15.38. Those figures include “customer service representative” jobs across all industries, not just call centers.