By Ian Ross
The roster of call centres in Sudbury continued to swell in 2001 with no sign of market saturation.
The newest centre on the block is AllTel Marketing Corp., which opened an outbound facility in the east end of Sudbury in December. It is a subsidiary of DialAmerica Marketing Inc., one of the largest privately owned telemarketing companies in the U.S., and their Sudbury location represents their first Canadian presence.
The Mahwah, N.J. company is a provider of inbound and outbound telemarketing services for book publishing, financial services, software and video, with 80 centres worldwide.
The Sudbury facility caters mainly to consumer communications and the financial industry.
Debora Ramsay, the Sudbury branch manager, says the company is staffing just enough to fill 36 seats for their first phase, though the building is equipped with 72 work stations.
According to a “tried, tested and true” business model, AllTel recruits only part-timers and offers flexible hours between 15 and 35 hours a week, mainly attracting students and second-income earners. Workers are guaranteed $10 an hour.
With only an evening shift operating since December, they plan to add a second shift in February, adding 25 more staff with tentative plans to double the workforce in March, provided they meet certain performance standards, Ramsay says.
Ramsay says job applications from students continue to flow into her office daily, largely based on word of mouth.
Despite the economic downturn exacerbated by the Sept. 11 events that have resulted in layoffs among some telemarketing companies, Ramsay says the mother company, DialAmerica, maintains an ambitious schedule.
"We're hoping to expand this facility depending upon performance," says Ramsay, with possible expansion to St. Catharines and Moncton in the works.
Sudbury's growing stable of dedicated call centres includes: Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC), Oracle Research, Regional Cable Systems, TeleTech and Capreol Connex, Omega Direct Response and Marketeers. The call centres collectively employ almost 3,000 people.
And the city would not mind adding 3,000 more, says Stephanie Harris, a City of Greater Sudbury business development officer.
The community has certainly reaped the benefits in recent years, aggressively jumping into an industry that is in full growth mode.
"The fruits are starting to come," laying the foundation for building a vibrant information technology sector, says Harris.
Harris says promoting Sudbury's 400-kilometre-long fibre line at trade shows has been a "big factor" in placing the city on the telecommunications map, which eventually might lead to offshoot opportunities in other related industries.
"We're dealing with (call centre) site-selection companies that deal with other types of business, and they're aware of Sudbury," Harris says. "We're finding we don't have to market the call centres as strongly as we had to in the beginning. Now they're calling us instead. I've had three or four inquiries this week."
For instance, the planning of the Northern Medical School has created a buzz within the pharmaceutical sector, given the city's commitment to telecommunications and strong IT support, she says.
Judging from the print advertisements put out by prospecting call centre firms, Sudbury does not appear to be coming close to exhausting its available labour supply.
"Companies like AllTel place an ad and receive 400 applications," Harris says. "There's still a market out there."
Harris takes issue with the perception of call centre employment as a poor substitute for well-paying industrial jobs.
"They're not minimum wage jobs," Harris says "They (pay) much more than retail."
From her contacts within the real estate and business community, she has learned that call centres have made "significant impact," providing second incomes for many families, resulting in dollars spent locally for new homes and cars.