Madison call center to receive nearly $575,000 in state incentives to add nearly 300 jobs

Madison call center to receive nearly $575,000 in state incentives to add nearly 300 jobs

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Two state agencies will provide more than a half-million taxpayer dollars to help a Philippines-based outsourcing company expand a small Madison call center, based on its pledge to add 286 jobs in three years starting at $11 per hour plus commission.

SPi Global Madison, also known as Laserwords, provides call center services for Dish Network, selling Internet and television packages across the U.S. since last April with 40 employees at 4230 Argosy Court on Madison’s Far East Side. It is parent company SPi Global’s first U.S.-based call center, with other centers in India, China, Vietnam and the Philippines for the past 20 years. Dish has been a client for 12 years.

The company is slated to receive $375,000 in tax credits from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and a $198,026 grant from the Department of Workforce Development for worker training in sales and customer service, for a total of $573,026.

The state money is tied to the jobs being created, and could be received over a period of three years, WEDC secretary Reed Hall said Monday during a tour of the center with Department of Workforce Development secretary Reggie Newson, who said the aid will help the company “quickly and nimbly ramp up” operations.

Under the agreement, Laserwords also has pledged to spend $1.2 million to remodel 10,000 square feet of existing space in the building to create new training areas and work space for the added employees, with $850,000 earmarked for information technology equipment and $350,000 in facility improvements.

Mark Belcher, an SPi Global associate vice president, said the company searched throughout the country and chose Madison for its first U.S. call center because of the city’s educated workforce and the state incentive package.

He said the state aid was “instrumental” in the center’s rapid growth, noting he expected to make all the new hires in the next three to four months, far ahead of the three-year deadline.

He also said three additional clients — two floral companies and an e-commerce business — could be signed soon.

Hall said WEDC rules require companies to pay at least $11 per hour to get taxpayer incentives. He noted Laserwords was paying more than that, counting commissions on top of the base wage of $11 an hour.

“It’s always a balance,” Hall said about awarding state money to companies for creating relatively low-paying jobs. “We understand a business like that is competing in a globally competitive environment. That’s the market for this type of position.”

Belcher said the average employee at Laserwords earns $15 an hour including commissions, equivalent to about $30,000 a year, plus benefits including health insurance, disability and three weeks paid vacation. He said nearly all of the existing employees are full time, adding that the top 10 percent can earn the equivalent of $50,000 to $75,000 during busy times.

Call centers are one of three divisions at SPi Global, which employs 19,000 in 30 offices and facilities on five continents. It is known as a full-service business process outsourcing provider, with the other two divisions in health care software and textbook editing.

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