Wireless firm plans to build service center in Howard Co.

$22 million customer facility may mean 300 new jobs by year's end, Verizon says

August 10, 2005|By William Patalon III | William Patalon III,SUN STAFF

Fueled by continued growth in its subscriber base, Verizon Wireless is building a $22 million customer-service center in Howard County, a project that could create 300 new jobs by the end of this year, the company confirmed yesterday.

An official announcement is scheduled for today.

Construction is under way on the one-story, 139,000-square-foot facility on Coca-Cola Drive in Hanover, near Routes 100 and 295 near the Howard-Anne Arundel line. Company officials expect the state-of-the-art service center to be operational in November.

Initially, the Verizon Wireless facility will house about 700 employees - about 200 new hires and 500 current employees who work in a customer-service facility 12 miles away in Laurel. The new building will have capacity for 1,100 employees, said Pat Devlin, president of Verizon Wireless' Baltimore-Washington region.

Verizon Wireless, the nation's No. 2 wireless provider after Cingular Wireless, is the cell-phone subsidiary of New York-based Verizon Communications Inc.

The industry continues to see much growth, but also turbulence: MCI Inc. announced last week that it is closing a telemarketing center in Hunt Valley that employs 300 by late September.

Verizon Wireless' Laurel facility, which serves as its regional headquarters, also houses the customer-service, government-support, and wireless-data and multimedia business units - all of which are growing, Devlin said.

"We're literally bursting at the seams here in Laurel," Devlin said, noting that the growth had forced the company to convert some of its conference rooms, training areas and half its cafeteria into office space.

Officials said the company felt that the space crunch would hamper its ability to hire and train new customer-service employees, a critical mission for what is quickly becoming a commodity business.

In the second quarter, Verizon Wireless gained 1.9 million new subscribers, bringing its total to 47.4 million as of June 30. That placed Verizon about 4 million subscribers behind Cingular, which had 51.6 million subscribers. A year ago, Verizon trailed by 6.4 million subscribers. Cingular Wireless became the industry leader last fall when it acquired AT&T Wireless.

The customer assistance that the new facility will provide - ranging from billing to offering help with the features available on cell phones - is a key to keeping subscribers happy, said Joe Chuisano, director of customer service for the region.

The positions can require at least some college course work, pay $30,000 or more and offer advancement for the best performers, Chuisano said.

"There are tremendous growth opportunities for the folks we will be bringing in," Chuisano said.

New hires spend their first three months, and possibly longer, in company-created training programs. That's one reason Verizon Wireless is hiring in stages, with 200 of 300 eventual new jobs being filled as soon as possible and the rest by the end of this year.

The salaries, technological focus and potential for continued hiring contributed to the county and the state offering an incentives package with a potential value of $1 million, said Robert L. Hannon, an assistant secretary for the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. The package, which includes property tax credits and job-training grants, is being negotiated, he said.

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