Social enterprise call center asks corporations to move offshore customer support to Franklinton

Social enterprise call center asks corporations to move offshore customer support to Franklinton

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By Carrie Ghose  –  Staff reporter, Columbus Business First

Jan 2, 2018, 5:18pm EST Updated Jan 3, 2018, 9:52am

Call-center operations veterans opening a Columbus facility are trying to persuade Central Ohio corporations to move their offshore customer support to Franklinton.

Fortuity Calling LLC also aims to provide solid career paths out of poverty, adding about 25 jobs at a time as the social enterprise lands customers – the goal is 200 jobs. The building also will house a nonprofit that teaches job-readiness and helps people overcome barriers to entering the workforce, such as inconsistent transportation.

"The reason we’re doing it is to create real job opportunities for folks who live in Columbus’ inner city and low-opportunity neighborhoods," said Fred Brothers, co-founder and CEO of Fortuity and Uprising Capital LLC, which provides funding to nonprofits and social enterprise. "We’re teaching people to fish."

The call center's parent company, Fortuity Holding LLC, bought a medical office building and attached parking garage next to Mount Carmel West, 750 Mt. Carmel Mall, for $4.5 million last week, principals said.

The Franklin County Recorder's office hasn't updated its online records to reflect the sale. Fortuity also bought the vacant lot on W. Broad Street immediately in front of the building for $65,000, breaking the 0.2-acre parcel off from the Graham Ford property.

“Our goal is to start creating jobs as soon as possible,” said Katie Robinson, co-founder and senior vice president at both Fortuity and Uprising.

Fortuity will start its call center in open offices and expand with demand and as tenants leave. The building currently is 70 percent occupied; a handful of medical practices will move to Mount Carmel Grove City when the new hospital opens at the end of the year.

Mount Carmel Health System has agreed to extend leases for its primary care and women's health practices in the building, providing Fortuity rental income to support its job-creating mission. Job training and job creation are the types of uses the hospital system seeks to encourage in neighboring properties as it remakes the west campus, said Brett Justice, Mount Carmel senior vice president of strategy and system development.

“This is perfect alignment with what the community and city and others have wanted and believe,” Justice told me. “It’s important for a thriving Franklinton.”

Although corporations would help the community by bringing offshore call center jobs back, Brothers intends to appeal to business sense.

His pitch: An experienced management team managing an affordable, U.S.-based center with the latest technology. He also predicts reduced operating costs from lower turnover because while suburban call centers tend to attract college students and others seeking a stepping stone instead of a career, Fortuity can be a magnet employer. Jobs pay based on experience but through six levels of promotion can hit $12 to $14 hourly; and it's less than a 30-minute bus ride from seven low-income neighborhoods.

Brothers was one of the first employees of the former CheckFree Corp., heading its five call centers with 1,200 people in three time zones. He then started an e-commerce consulting firm that was acquired in 2010, and joined the buyer FIS as chief innovation officer.

Robinson established brand experience for customer support centers in 16 years at Alliance Data Card Services, and later joined the innovation team at FIS and identified startups for the technology firm to invest in.

They've hired Andy Shockney, who started the call center as director of customer service for Columbus retailer Thirty-One Gifts LLC, as senior vice president and general manager.

The $13 million project to buy, convert and equip the call center is backed by a $7.6 million loan from the state Development Services Agency, as I've previously reported, as well as $2.9 million in New Markets Tax Credit backed by Capital One, $1 million in equity from Uprising and other grants and financing.

Construction is to start in late spring to enclose existing ground-level parking below the building, eliminating 23 parking spaces and adding 15,000 square feet of office space.

The building no longer needs elevation above the flood plain since completion of the Franklinton flood wall. Exterior refurbishing also is planned this year. Columbus real estate developer Equity Inc. helped Fortuity find the building and acted as buyer's agent.

The new ground floor will house the third branch of Columbus Works Inc., a nonprofit that has Uprising as one of three funders. Columbus Works teaches soft skills on interviewing and resume writing, but also provides "wrap-around" help such as a computer lab, help with the gap between leaving Medicaid eligibility and being able to afford health care and transportation assistance.

The group will be the early screener for many call center employees, but can refer members to other partner employers, which it prefers to be located along Central Ohio Transit Authority bus lines.

"We really like the hands-on model a lot more," Robinson said.

The building also will return Columbus Early Learning Centers to Franklinton. The preschool sold its Grubb Street building nearby in 2014. Fortuity will use part of call center profits toward below-market rent and direct grants to the nonprofits.

"The theme behind everything we do is, how do we improve the lives of people," Robinson said. "How can we make a big difference? Create hundreds of jobs."

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Franklinton social-enterprise call center awarded up to $500,000 in grants to train workers

Franklinton social-enterprise call center awarded up to $500,000 in grants to train workers

Plan envisions for call center, 200 jobs in former Mount Carmel West area offices

Plan envisions for call center, 200 jobs in former Mount Carmel West area offices