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Home of the sweetheart deal

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After its unhappy experience with Stream International, you wouldn’t think the city of Kalispell would be so ready to cut a new sweetheart deal to attract yet another call center company.

But the city has been negotiating with TeleTech, a billion-dollar firm based in Englewood, Colo., that offers customer support and technical services over the phone and on the Internet. Under the proposed deal, the city would let TeleTech occupy space in the Stream-abandoned Gateway West Mall free of charge, and was at one time talking about giving the company a low-interest loan of $1 million or more to make improvements to the building. In return, TeleTech would provide an undisclosed number of jobs—perhaps as many as 425 after three years—with a minimum pay of $8 an hour.

Back in 2000, the city doled out $4 million in public assistance to lure Stream to the then-abandoned mall. The city bought 50,000 square feet of the mall, worked out a business-friendly lease with Stream and even agreed to reimburse the company for $2.75 million of its investment in the Kalispell site. In return, Stream closed after three years and fled, laying off hundreds of workers and sending many of the jobs to Canada, where wages are lower.

At least one Kalispell City Council member, Randy Kenyon, isn’t happy about the TeleTech deal, but even he might decide to hold his nose and vote for it. After all, the city’s piece of the mall is now sitting vacant.

“I don’t like to bribe companies to come here, and $8 an hour isn’t enough money. Working at these call centers is very stressful work. They should pay more,” Kenyon said.

The deal was supposed to have been signed last month, but negotiations have stalled. At last report, officials were balking at loaning TeleTech money to renovate the office space. Maybe Kalispell is learning from past mistakes.

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