Call center jobs are welcome in diversified economy

Johnson City Press • Mar 14, 2019 at 10:42 AM

Opportunity is calling, and we shouldn’t let it go to voicemail.

As Press staff writer Zach Vance reported this week, an as-of-yet unnamed company intends to build a new call center facility on Christian Church Road in the Boones Creek community and relocate 1,200 employees.

Washington County commissioners rezoned the 25 acres of farmland last month to accommodate the new business activity, and construction could start this fall.

Property owner Lynn Hodge, formerly a county commissioner, said he couldn’t reveal the identity of the company, nor would he say whether it already has a presence in the area, so it’s possible not all of these jobs are new to our economy.

Call center jobs can be a mixed blessing, so our endorsement of this latest economic announcement is less than full-throated, but we commend our leaders and the company’s representatives for their hard work in bringing this project to fruition.

Entry-level positions at these centers can be stressful without much compensation. Heavy turnover is common as new employees realize their distaste for the worst parts of the work.

According to glassdoor.com, call center customer service positions in the area pay about $12 an hour, or $25,000 annually. That’s 10 percent less than Johnson City’s average income, and slightly more than other area service-oriented jobs, like retail sales associates.

But jobs are jobs, and in an area with higher poverty rates in general than the rest of the country and a lack of skilled-labor positions, we can’t afford to let this one go by.

Call centers already take up a lot of space — more than 3,000 jobs — in Washington County’s economy. Two of our top ten employers are call centers, and if this anonymous company is indeed new to the area, it would be sixth on that list.

We’re concerned that our economy may become too reliant on call center jobs, leading to disaster should the industry decide to pull the plug. We don’t want to see thousands of residents out of work if it again becomes more cost-effective for these companies to offshore their customer service jobs, a not very far-fetched possibility.

We’d like those people directing our economic development, planners, marketers and the like, to carefully watch this sector for any signs of weakness and to have a contingency plan ready should the market start to collapse.

Still, we’re grateful this company decided our community was a good fit, and we look forward to doing business with it for a long time to come.

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