Franklinton Social Enterprise Call Center to Open Before Year's End
By Carrie Ghose - Staff Reporter
A social enterprise call center set to open before the end of the year aims to offer a path out of poverty while staking a claim as an employer of choice.
Fortuity Calling LLC has landed its first corporate client to open with a handful of workers in a Franklinton medical office building that it's renovating in a $12.5 million project. Its founders shared more details about the project during a recent pre-construction tour, but would not share the name of the client.
“A huge part of our mission is to take people who have work ethic but not the specific soft skills to do this kind of work and train them up so they can make more money," said Fred Brothers, co-founder and CEO of Fortuity and Uprising Capital LLC, which provides funding to nonprofits and social enterprise.
“So many of the entry-level jobs don’t really have much of a career path," Brothers said. “You’ll work hard and stay in poverty for the rest of your life."
Fortuity will hire people with a high school diploma or equivalent. A Franklin County workforce development grant pays Fortuity as employees reach certain wage points to partially reimburse their training; it applies to those who were making less than twice the federal poverty level when hired.
Starting at about $11 hourly, they have at least seven stages for promotions. Over five to seven years, the top management level pays as much as $28 hourly.
The center will work with a few clients through the first half of 2019 while refining the model and finishing interior construction, with a goal to create 200 jobs for low-income residents by the end of 2021.
“We want to start small,” Brothers said. “We want to do a fantastic job for customer No. 1.”
They'll be playing "musical chairs" in empty suites throughout the building as a maze of oddly shaped offices and cramped exam rooms is demolished to create an open second floor washed with natural light. When construction is complete around April, the only enclosed spaces will be elevator shafts and bathrooms.
The design by Columbus-based Red Architecture + Planning is meant to dramatically reduce turnover, one of the biggest expenses for a call center, Brothers said. Columbus-based Equity Construction Solutions, of Equity Inc., is the general contractor.
Most call centers are in windowless spaces with work stations about 4 feet wide – room for two computer monitors but no personal effects. Fortuity's will be 5 feet, with a lockable cabinet.
“We’re going to have this stunning space,” Brothers said. “The light is going to stretch side to side.
“We’re not trying to be the lowest cost, and quality be damned,” he said. “We’re trying to be good quality, good cost, where people want to stay. ... When you sit in a chair eight hours a day, talking on the phone, it’s important.”
Fortuity plans to surround the workforce with resources, including child-care.
Training, child-care, nutrition
Columbus Works Inc. has moved its headquarters to the building and will share Fortuity’s third-floor training center. A chapter of nonprofit Cincinnati Works, the job-readiness program assertively helps new entrants to the labor force surmount the barriers between poverty and employment, including transportation and hunger.
Crews from CleanTurn International LLC – another Columbus social enterprise that gives second-chance employment to workers with prison records – started demolition this week on the ground floor parking. They're ripping out drop ceilings and pouring a new concrete floor to enclose 15,000 square feet for a day-care center and a healthy, affordable cafeteria.
Columbus Early Learning Centers, a nonprofit that several years ago had to leave another Franklinton building, is raising funds to complete classrooms and outdoor play space for 100 children. It also will offer a drop-in service for working parents when their children are sick.
The Franklinton floodwall in 2003 obviated the need to elevate the building; it still has an attached two-story deck with 300 spaces.
“We’re trading 23 parking spaces for the ability for 100 working-poor parents to go back to work,” Brothers said.
The building on the edge of the Mount Carmel West campus has started to empty as Mount Carmel Health System prepares to move inpatient services to its new Grove City Hospital and demolish most of the hospital buildings, leaving an outpatient and educational campus with room for redevelopment.
But Mount Carmel's outpatient lab and three practices – internal medicine, women's health and mental health – will remain in the building. The system is leasing space from call center affiliate Fortuity Holding LLC.
Brothers said the project would not have been possible without $10.6 million in federal and state New Markets Tax Credits approved by Finance Fund, a Columbus nonprofit that facilitates financing for economic development in low-income communities statewide. Capital One, the project's tax credit investor, allocated an additional $1 million in tax credits.
"This building was functionally obsolete," Brothers said.
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