The Harlan County Economic Development Authority held its second meeting on Monday, discussing among other items an ongoing project the panel hopes will bring jobs to the Tri-City area in the form of a long-talked about call center.
EDA member Pete Cornett introduced Betsy Shirey to the panel.
After passing out an overview of her plan to the panel, Shirey explained what she hopes to achieve.
“I’ve been working on this project for about two years,” Shirey said. “In all honesty, it’s a branch of a vision I had about five years ago.”
According to Shirey, she became aware of the Cumberland, Benham and Lynch area through a connection with her church in Louisville.
“I’m not even originally a Kentuckian,” said Shirey. “But I have adopted this state, I love this state, and I saw a lot of opportunity in the Tri-Cities when I first visited here five years ago.”
Shirey said she plans to open a customer service communication center in the Tri-City area.
“That is a long name for basically what people usually call a call center,” Shirey said. “A call center is not a completely accurate name for the kind of business this has evolved into.”
Shirey explained a call center could handle multiple duties including sales, answering customer service questions and making appointments.
“Without a doubt it’s a viable business for this area,” Shirey said. “They’re good decent jobs, the wage is good – I’m planning on $11 an hour plus benefits – in this area that’s a good wage.”
Shirey said in addition to answering phone calls, she plans to have agents eventually responding to email and performing online chat options.
Shirey mentioned she intends to start with a total of 25 jobs.
“Eventually, I really think the skies the limit,” stated Shirey. “I hope (to have) 100 employees in the next three to five years.”
Shirey also mentioned she is probably going to locate the business in Cumberland to begin with.
“It won’t be long-term,” said Shirey. “There’s a building in Lynch that was an old clinic that is an ideal building for a contact center that’s employing 100 or more, but it’s just not ready right now.”
Harlan County Judge-Executive Dan Mosley asked if there had been any movement on renovations to the building in Lynch.
“No,” answered Shirey. “Honestly I’m not sure what’s happening with that, I think there’s kind of a breakdown in communication. I was always interested in it, but it’s actually deteriorated in the last six to eight months since the last time I looked at it.”
Responding to a question from Mosley, Shirey verified the number of jobs depends somewhat on the contracts that could be secured from businesses to use the call center’s services.
Shirey said she would appreciate the EDA’s assistance in any way the board would be willing to help.
“We’ll support you in any way we can,” said Mosley. “I commend you for wanting to do something for the mountain people in a time that we continue to struggle with a lack of employment opportunities, you’ve made a big commitment.”
Mosley asked if there was an expected timeline for getting the business up and running.
“I originally hoped the business would be up and running by now,” Shirey said. “My new timeline puts it by mid-year next year. I would just also say I have moved here myself, and I felt that was an important thing to do to show commitment to the business and that I intend to move forward with it.”
Reach Joe P. Asher at 606-909-4132 or on Twitter @joe_hde