NCO to move 4 offices from suburbs to city

Bill collector first private Montgomery Park tenant

600 jobs to shift to Baltimore

Local, state, federal aid part of incentive package

October 16, 2002|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

NCO Group Inc., one of the world's largest bill collectors, plans to open an office in the city early next year and bring up to 600 jobs to Baltimore - one of the biggest influx of workers to the city in recent years.

Fort Washington, Pa.-based NCO was expected to announce today that it will consolidate four of its Maryland call centers in Montgomery Park, a once commercially overlooked site in Southwest Baltimore.

The workers will park for free and have access to a food court, gym and other amenities built into the extensive redevelopment project supported with public dollars.

The move, which will be subsidized by the city, state and federal governments, will bring the total space leased in the former Montgomery Ward building to about 340,000 square feet, about a third of the space.

The state Department of the Environment moved about 900 workers into Montgomery Park last month, and the Maryland State Lottery expects to move 175 workers in before the end of the year. NCO would become the first private-sector business to lease space there.

"We're excited to be going to a city where we're welcome, where we think the job market will be good for us," said Joshua Gindin, NCO's executive vice president and general counsel. "A lot of our employees come from the inner city."

Gindin could not say how many of the company's workers live in Baltimore. He said all employees at the four offices will be offered a chance to continue in their jobs at Montgomery Park and that those who decline will be replaced with local people. He also said he expects employment to rise to about 700 in the next three to five years, depending on the economy.

The NCO Group offices are in Odenton, Linthicum and Chevy Chase. Another office in Woodlawn, which belongs to a subsidiary, NCO Portfolio Management Inc., will also move to Montgomery Park.

NCO bought the Woodlawn office from bankrupt Creditrust Corp. last year. Creditrust once had 1,000 employees, having grown rapidly by purchasing the portfolios of delinquent Visa and MasterCard loans from banks.

Gindin could not say yesterday how many workers would move from each office or specify their pay. He said the jobs, mostly entry-level, are full time and include benefits such as health insurance.

Free parking and reasonable rent and utility costs helped NCO choose Montgomery Park, Gindin said.

He did not say how much NCO would be paying for the space, but CoStar Group, a real estate information provider, lists the rent for offices at $17.75 a square foot.

NCO had considered moving the Maryland offices to other states where it has facilities, Gindin said.

He said incentives played a role in the company's decision to stay in Maryland, but he would not disclose the dollar value of the package NCO received.

Empowerment zone

Montgomery Park is in a federal empowerment zone, where businesses are afforded tax breaks based on the number of people they employ.

Further, Gindin said, the city and state offered subsidies that include tax abatement based on employment and capital investment, and a grant and low-interest loan for job creation and infrastructure expenses.

Baltimore Development Corp., which negotiates city incentive packages, declined to comment until today's announcement.

David S. Iannucci, secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, said the tax abatement is limited to the capital investment, which is about $4.5 million. He defended spending taxpayer money on a company that already operates in the state.

"Before anyone complains, for 20 or 30 years or so jobs were leaving the city and going to the suburbs, and I insisted we make it a high priority to reverse that flow," he said.

The state also subsidized Montgomery Park, making NCO's move important to the building's long-term health, he said.

Iannucci said business retention is a priority because most job growth in Maryland comes from expansions rather than new businesses. For example, CitiFinancial Corp. said last year that it would hire 500 workers over an unspecified period in addition to the 530 it employed in the city.

Few other companies in Baltimore have added so many positions in recent years, and few large companies have moved to town. One example is Bank One Corp., which moved to the city in 2000 and pledged to hire 400 workers over four years. CitiFinancial and Bank One both received incentive packages.

Vacant since 1985

Montgomery Park, being redeveloped by Samuel K. Himmelrich Jr., also is a public-private endeavor. Himmelrich acquired about $65 million in financing for the first phase of the redesign of the 1920s art deco building, which had been vacant since 1985.

The money has come from a variety of government and private sources.

Himmelrich said he sees the building at Washington Boulevard and Monroe Street as a suburban-style office complex in the city, partly because of the parking lot and large footprint that allows businesses to situate all their workers on one floor.

"NCO really is a suburban user, and Montgomery Park has given the suburban user an opportunity to move into the city that doesn't usually occur," he said.

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