- Chelsey Levingston Staff Writer
A business services company’s plan to open a call center with 682 jobs here poses a triple threat to the city’s economic recovery. Not only does it add hundreds of new jobs, but the call center would also fill empty space and help boost Hamilton’s downtown revitalization efforts.
Colorado-based StarTek Inc. plans to open the Hamilton call center later this year after renovations in the former Elder-Beerman building at 150 High St., according to city officials. Plans to open a call center were announced Monday after the project was approved for state-level tax credits. Company representatives could not be reached Monday for comment.
“Any Midwestern town would love to have this project and investment in their city,” Hamilton Mayor Pat Moeller said. “It’s bringing a building even more back to life and our whole downtown back to life.”
StarTek’s announcement Monday to create approximately 682 jobs in downtown Hamilton is believed to be the city’s single biggest announcement for new job creation in at least a decade, according to Hamilton’s economic development department.
The StarTek project beats new jobs announced in any Hamilton business district during the past 10 years or so and maybe even longer — including a series of three expansions announced by auto supplier ThyssenKrupp Bilstein of America Inc., or the opening in 2013 of plastics maker iMFLUX, which created 251 new jobs. Bilstein, a manufacturer of shock absorbers, has committed to creating approximately 375 total jobs since 2011.
Once hiring is complete, StarTek will jump to the top of the list of Hamilton’s largest employers — behind only county government, Hamilton City School District, Fort Hamilton Hospital and nonprofit Community First Solutions — to rest in fifth place.
StarTek provides business process outsourcing services such as customer care, sales support and order processing in the United States, the Philippines, Canada, Costa Rica and Honduras.
Plans call for StarTek to fill about 40,200 square feet of space currently sitting empty in the four-story downtown building, said Mike Dingeldein, executive director of the CORE Fund, a nonprofit created to invest in downtown Hamilton redevelopment that acquired the building in 2013. Other tenants slated to open this year in the building, which has been vacant since 2009, include Joslin Diabetes Center at Fort Hamilton Hospital, Jackson Market and Deli, and Butler County Board of Developmental Disabilities art initiative InsideOut Studio.
While those four tenants won’t completely fill the Elder-Beerman building, there will be enough room for future expansion of StarTek, Dingeldein said. Excluding the basement, the building is now about half leased, he said.
Dingeldein said the CORE Fund has about four weeks worth of engineering left to do, then after about a two-week city permit process, they hope to begin construction and renovation, starting with the High Street facade.
“It’s our hope to have Messer Construction inside the building by April 1,” Dingeldein said. He expects about four months worth of construction, which would lead to a tentative July 31 opening date.
Hiring will begin immediately and available jobs include entry-level as well as management positions, said Hamilton City Manager Joshua Smith.
StarTek has three years to meet its commitments for new job creation for tax credit purposes, according to Ohio Development Services Agency. Estimates are that once all the positions are filled, it will add $15.7 million in new payroll to Hamilton’s tax base, according to information provided by the state development department. The project was approved for a 65 percent, 7-year tax credit that can be claimed on new jobs created.
If all the pledged jobs are added, the credit is valued at roughly $1.3 million over the life of the tax break, also according to the state development department.
Smith acknowledged that while this announcement is undoubtedly a win for Hamilton, there is still a long ways to go toward a full economic recovery.
“If you go back 30 years, we’ve lost 10,000 middle-class jobs that we need to be replacing, so the work never stops,” he said. “We’re sticking to City Council’s strategic plan … I think we all recognize that it’s very early in the process.”
“But it’s just not the work goals, it’s how everything is interrelated within the strategic plan,” Smith continued, citing the recent $3.5 million donation by the Marcum family to create Marcum Park on the former Mercy Hospital lot next to the RiversEdge Amphitheater.
“That was definitely a selling point for getting these jobs downtown, and that we made a concerted effort to restore a historic neighborhood,” Smith said.
“To me, this is a much-needed shot in the arm that brings more consistent foot traffic downtown,” he said.
Hamilton’s economy was dealt a blow in 2012 following the Great Recession when three different manufacturing plants announced layoffs. They included 137 employees laid off from Mowhawk Fine Papers’ Beckett Mill on Dayton Street when the plant closed in 2012; a series of downsizings from 2011 to 2012 totaling more than 200 workers until the SMART Papers mill closed its doors on North B Street in 2012; and 97 jobs cut due to the closing of Hamilton Fixtures on Symmes Road, also in 2012.
Procter & Gamble Co. subsidiary iMFLUX, which makes plastic materials, has since opened in the former Hamilton Fixtures building and created 251 new jobs, according to the city.
Downtown Hamilton has also lost prominent financial industry headquarters over the years. Insurer Ohio Casualty relocated its headquarters from North Third Street in Hamilton to Fairfield in 1999. Then it was acquired in 2007 by Liberty Mutual Group. First Financial Bancorp moved its headquarters from High Street to Norwood in 2009, and later to Cincinnati. And Fifth Third Bancorp closed its downtown Hamilton branch in 2011.
The city’s unemployment rate averaged 5.5 percent in 2014, down from recessionary highs of 10.9 percent in 2009 and 2010, but still higher than Butler County’s overall unemployment rate of 4.9 percent last year. Since 2009, Hamilton’s labor force — the number of working residents and those seeking jobs — also shrank from 30,100 people on average in 2010 to 29,200 people last year, which could have contributed to the drop in unemployment if people moved away or gave up their job search.
“To see downtown (Hamilton) back in the ’70s be a certain way, and then having the challenges that we’ve had over the years with the building closed up real tight, to now having that building come back to life with the folks moving in, it’s really an exciting time in the city of Hamilton,” Mayor Moeller, a Hamilton native, said.
|HAMILTON'S BIGGEST JOB ANNOUNCEMENTS|
|The single biggest announcements for new job creation in the city over the last decade.|
|Companies approved for state job creation tax credits have three years to fulfill their pledges for new jobs.|
|Rank||Company||Year announced||Total new jobs committed|
|3||ThyssenKrupp Bilstein of America Inc.*||2014||214|
|5||Valeo Climate Control||2013||105|
|*ThyssenKrupp Bilstein has announced a series of three expansions since 2011. Previous announcements included|
|a commitment to create 60 new jobs in 2011 and 100 new jobs in 2013 for a total 374 new jobs.|
|SOURCE: City of Hamilton, Ohio Development Services Agency|