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- The Forecaster
SCARBOROUGH — A complete economic recovery might be years away, but you wouldn’t know it judging by how quickly the Scarborough Industrial Park brought in a new tenant after one suddenly departed.
Great Falls Marketing brought 110 jobs with it when it opened up a new call center at 6 Lincoln Ave. in December. It is leasing the space from Plum Choice, a tech support contractor that closed its shop at the site in November. The property was fallow for less than a month.
“That’s the kind of turnaround you want to see,” said Harvey Rosenfeld, director of Scarborough Economic Development Corporation, or SEDCO. “(It is) a fairly simple deal where they went into an existing telemarketing site when another company vacates.”
Massachusetts-based Plum Choice was forced to close its doors when a major client pulled its contract with the company, said Karen McPhilips, the firm’s spokeswoman.
McPhilips wouldn’t say how many employees were laid off when Plum Choice closed, but reported the company was able to find other jobs for some of them. Rosenfeld guessed it was about 100 workers.
However many people were affected by Plum Choice’s departure, the closure made way for Great Falls Marketing to expand its southern Maine operations.
The Auburn-based telemarketing company, formerly known as AdvancedTel Direct, works for health and wellness marketers who advertise on TV, radio and direct-mail. It reports working with about 50 clients, but declined to name any, citing non-disclosure agreements.
The move to Scarborough was necessary to facilitate the company’s rapid growth, said Scott MacCheyne, president and CEO of Great Falls Marketing. It had opened a call center in South Portland in November 2010, but by late last year, more space was needed for more agents, hence the company’s decision to locate in Scarborough.
The company has been on a huge upswing since MacCheyne and CFO Mike Frautten bought it from Alpine Investors last year, MacCheyne said. The buyout brought the company back into Maine ownership for the first time since 2005.
“Last week was the biggest week this company’s ever seen,” he said. “We’ve operated with a small profit since 2005, but we’ve basically doubled in size when it comes to employees and revenues since last year.”
No employees in South Portland were laid off as a result of the move, MacCheyne said, and many simply moved with the company to Scarborough. Plus, he said Great Falls is already poised to add 50 or 60 more jobs in Scarborough.
Call centers are a “stable industry” in Maine, said Adam Fisher, a spokesman for the Maine Department of Labor. He said it’s no surprise that an Auburn company like Great Falls has seen growth.
“Lewiston-Auburn has been a hotbed for call center activity,” he said. Fisher said that likely had to do with L-A’s relatively educated and sometimes bilingual workforce.
There are about 100 call centers in Maine, thought not all of them are telemarketing firms, Fisher said. About 8,352 Mainers are call center employees.
Because telemarketers’ wages depend on commission, it’s hard to say how much the average employee at Great Falls will make. While many call centers promise the possibility of big commission money, the numbers tell a different story.
The starting wage for telemarketers in the greater Portland area is about $8.50 per hour, according to 2010 data from the Maine Department of Labor. The highest-paid, most-experienced employees making a little more than $12 per hour.
MacCheyne said employees at Great Falls are paid on commission, and that “typical agents” can make up to $25 per hour. He also praised his company’s ability to retain agents, many of whom he said had been with Great Falls for years.
He also said that more and more adults with families are looking toward telemarketing as a way to make ends meet in the recession.
“With the economy so unstable, we’re getting fewer of the typical young guys in the call center,” he said. “This is a stable income for people who might be looking for money in this tough economy.”
Rosenfeld, at SEDCO, said he welcomed the addition of Great Falls Marketing to Scarborough Industrial Park. His agency’s vision for economic growth is centered on medical, biotech and information industries, and Great Falls seems a good fit.
“We’re looking for a whole range of jobs (for Scarborough),” he said. “We’re always looking for people who are willing to come in and pay good salaries.”