Hires will follow site’s $1 million renovation
T-Mobile, one of the largest employers in Bellingham, is going on a hiring spree in the next four months, as they plan on adding 100 new employees, increasing their workforce from 350 to 450.
The company is also starting a $1,034,000 renovation project at the Bellingham call center at 340 W. Bakerview Rd. to add amenities such as an exercise workout room, a cafeteria and a game room.
They also plan on dividing the workspace into smaller “work pod” areas to create a more friendly office atmosphere, said Dennis Carroll, general manager of the Bellingham call center.
The renovations, which only involve the interior of the building, are expected to be completed by the end of February.
“As a company we are trying to make this call center a more attractive place to work,” Carroll said. “We are trying to hire top-notch people interested in making a career change, not just someone looking for a job.”
The call center is also going through major changes in how it operates. For years the call center focused on being a “financial care” site, which meant making collection calls on delinquent accounts. Now the center is switching to a customer-care format, where they answer questions from customers about products and services.
“I think there is a perception among some about what a person does when it comes to collection calls, which may have made some people reluctant to apply,” Carroll said. “This change in format may make it easier to attract employees.”
The reason the Bellingham call center is changing its format is because of capacity, Carroll said. They don’t need as many collection callers as they do customer-service representatives, and the Bellingham call center is the perfect size to handle the customer care format.
“The end result is we have been retraining our current staff, so there was no job loss in that regard,” Carroll said.
Hiring 100 new employees could be a challenge for T-Mobile, because the unemployment rate in Bellingham has remained low (it was 4.8 percent in August). The company has already hosted a few job fairs, and has been partnering with Whatcom Community College and Western Washington University to hire students for part-time shifts.
“We’ll sit down with the students and schedule shifts around class schedules,” Carroll said. “That has been successful for not only hiring, but retaining employees.”
The call center originally opened as VoiceStream Wireless in 1999, taking over the former Smith’s Home Furnishings building after a $5 million remodel. The call center was later part of T-Mobile’s purchase of VoiceStream in 2000. Since that time, the company employee levels have fluctuated between 300 and 500 employees.
Outlets snare new grocer
Philip and Sandra Scott have plans in place to open Scott’s MarketFresh, a 25,000-square-foot grocery store, this spring at the Peace Arch Factory Outlet mall in Custer.
The store will have a full-service deli cafe operation, a fresh meat department, a bakery and an extensive wine department to go along with the other typical grocery products, said Philip Scott. Once in full operation, Scott expects to employ between 40 and 50 people at the store.
“Our focus will be on natural, organic products, especially locally grown food,” said Scott.
His family has been in the grocery store business since the 1940s, and recently sold a store in Los Olivos, near Santa Barbara, Calif.
The store is part of a major remodeling process taking place at the outlet mall. Brian Finnegan, the leasing agent for the property, said the owners plan to give the center a more boutique feel with the remodel while at the same time attracting local, regional and national stores.
“There will be restaurants and stores, along with boutique retail businesses and professional-service companies to complement the grocery store,” he said.
One change to the mall is that Scott’s MarketFresh will be a standalone location in the north part of the site, having split away from the rest of the mall during the remodel. The north end of the mall will be separated in several locations, depending on who moves into the tenant spaces, Finnegan said.
“The goal is to create something that is more pedestrian friendly,” Finnegan said. “The way the mall is now, it’s just one long walk from one end to the other.”
Finnegan said the grocery store is the first phase of the remodel, with the rest being phased in over the next 12 to 24 months.
In studying the area, Scott thinks most of his customer base will come from the northern part of the county, including Birch Bay, Blaine, Custer and Lynden.
“Because the outlet mall is changing into more of a regional shopping center, I would also expect to see some people from outside the immediate area,” Scott said. “But the local customers are who I am focusing on. There are a lot of people in the surrounding area, and it will continue to grow with all of the housing projects planned in the coming years.”
Finnegan agreed, saying the time is right for the outlet mall to change from a shopping center to lure Canadians off the freeway to a place that will better serve the residents of northern Whatcom County.
“If you put a star on a map where the center is located and draw a circle around it, you’ll find the area has more than 1,000 new residential units already planned for development,” Finnegan said. “The center can become a key draw not only for those residents already living there, but for those who will soon be moving to that part of the county.”