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Direct TV to bring Hundreds of New Jobs to Missoula


State and local officials today formally unveiled plans to build a customer call center in Missoula for a digital television company that is promising to bring some 900 new jobs to the Garden City. The Missoula center will be one of four such facilities in the United States for California-based Direct TV Inc. Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana) joined Governor Brian Schweitzer, executives from Direct TV and other local leaders at a ceremony this morning in Missoula.

“We’re off to a good start here,” Baucus said, acknowledging that the nearly USD.18 million incentive package -- mostly financed by the state and county -- is a huge amount of money. “The company, I know, is committed to working with us.” Direct TV was lured to Missoula over College Station, Texas, thanks in part to a strong-armed lobbying effort in the late hour by Baucus. Missoula County will own the property and the 70,000-square-foot building, planned for west of town in the Missoula Development Park. Ground could be broken for the facility as early as next month.

While there are no legal assurances other than a verbal promise that Direct TV will remain in Missoula long-term, County Commissioner Barbara Evans thinks the county’s investment is worth it. Evans said she’s confident that Direct TV will not renege on the deal, “because they’re putting too much investment into this to just walk away.” “I don’t anticipate that happening,” she stressed.

Evans said the county and state were given a ten-year commitment from the company. After ten years, Direct TV has the option to buy the property. Direct TV officials insist they’re committed to Montana, and also committed to hiring Montanans, instead of relocating hundreds here from other cities. “As you can imagine, we are really anxious to get started here in Montana,” said John Suranyi, president of sales and service for Direct TV.

Suranyi said employees at Missoula’s new center will provide technical assistance for Direct TV’s 15 million customers. His company’s decision to move here bucks a growing trend in the telecommunications industry. As with other tech firms, executives are increasingly opting to move call centers like the one slated for Missoula overseas to the cheaper labor markets of India and the Philippines. Suranyi acknowledged Direct TV itself relies on several off-shore call centers, including one in Manila. But he said increasingly, his company is focusing on “quality customer service.” A labor market like Missoula, he said, with a university and technical college, can provide that nicely.

“We are committed and in fact I hope we can break ground soon,” Suranyi said. “Our customers are counting on this.” Indeed, Missoulians, and specifically the some 3,600 people in the county out of work, are also counting on this, Commissioner Evans said. The deal should generate hundreds of new jobs, paying an average of USD.9 an hour, with health benefits. That’s key, Baucus said, “First of all, it’s good paying jobs for Montana. That’s not a little thing. It’s important for us to remember that with those jobs coming to Montana, it will be easier for Montana high school and college graduates to stay in Montana.”

The county is financing the bulk of the spendy project -- putting up USD.12 million for the construction of the building (funded in part by a USD.9 million loan from the state Board of Investments) and USD.2 million in tax increment bonds based on expected tax revenue once Direct TV’s center is up and running. The federal Economic Development Administration is chipping in another USD.1.5 million and the state is adding more than a million dollars in the form of economic development and work force training grants, thanks largely to the work of the 2005 Legislature.

That’s a clause that didn’t go unmentioned on a platform crowded with prominent state and local Democrats and business leaders at today’s event. Governor Schweitzer said this announcement is another in a string of key economic development projects, like a bio-diesel plant in Culbertson and a defense project for Conrad, to have been inked in the last year. His administration says it’s all part of a push to diversify Montana’s economy, even if the DirectTV center itself will offer more service-sector work. A beaming Schweitzer presented Suranyi with one of his famed bolo ties, thanking him for bringing his business to Montana. “Welcome to Montana, you’ll never regret this decision,” said the Governor. “Now who brought the beer?” he added jokingly.

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