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FLEET UNIT PLANS CALL CENTER WITH 95 JOBS IN FALLS

A proposal to open a telemarketing center downtown that would create 90 to 95 new jobs was accepted Tuesday by a committee of the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency.

"When you get that many jobs in Niagara Falls you can start to rebuild a skilled labor base and those 95 jobs will generate more jobs," said John J. Petrozzi II, chairman of the IDA's Project Review Committee.

The $2.6 million project now goes before the county agency's board of directors, which is expected to approve it at a special meeting to be held in November, Petrozzi said.

The call center is being proposed by AFSA Data Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of Fleet Holding Corp. The company chose Niagara Falls from among several other cities as the location of a new student loan-servicing center and also for federal and state government contracts nationwide.

"One of the key reasons we got this center is because of the trained telemarketers in the area who were let go by TeleTech," Petrozzi said.

The Colorado-based TeleTech in May announced layoffs of more than 500 telemarketers from its downtown office.

In addition to the 95 new jobs, Fleet would also hire up to 30 temporary workers during the peak period of August through October, said Karl E. Felsen, Fleet's vice president of corporate communications in Albany.

Most of the positions would pay $9 to $12 an hour, he said.

The new call center could open as early as January, said John R. Simon, executive director of the Niagara County IDA.

The company plans to lease 26,000 square feet in a former Fleet Bank building at 225 Old Falls St., at the corner of Third Street. The building, which Fleet currently leases from Anwal Properties, once housed its credit card operation.

The $2.6 million cost includes renovating the vacant building and acquiring new machinery and equipment.

AFSA Data Corp. is hoping the IDA will provide sales tax and mortgage recording tax abatements, which would save the call center more than $100,000 over 10 years, Simon said. "We're very excited about the location decision and the positive impact it has on the Niagara Falls community," he noted.

AFSA Data Corp. is the nation's largest education services company providing financial aid, servicing more than 7.7 million accounts worth more than $79 billion. The company can apply to Empire State Development for a $250,000 grant for reimbursement of building renovation costs.

Fleet settled on Niagara Falls instead of another location because of the IDA tax incentives, the co-operation it received from Empire State Development, the state's economic development arm, and the existing lease it has on the building, Felsen said. Fleet services student loans for the U.S. Department of Education through its AFSA subsidiary. The new jobs would mainly be customer service at the beginning of the student loan process, such as answering questions and taking applications, Felsen said.

e-mail: lhaarlander@buffnews.com

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