Leader Blues

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

TOP STORY >> Sherwood to get 500 jobs

By WESLEY BROWN
Arkansas News Bureau

Cardinal Health Inc., of Dublin, Ohio, announced Tuesday it is opening a call center in Sherwood that will create 500 new jobs by the first of next year.
The call center will be located in a 71,000-square-foot office space at the Furniture Row Building, 5422 Landers Rd. at Hwy. 67/167.

“Call center employees will provide telephone support such as product and billing information to our 50,000 customers including hospitals, pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies,” said Jim Mazzola, of Cardinal Health’s media relations office. “We were impressed with the enthusiasm showed by local and state officials.”
Sherwood Mayor Bill Harmon says the city has very little unemployment, but the new company will be an economic boost.

“When you have 500 workers making $30,000 in your town, they’re bound to spend some of that here eating at restaurants and hopefully buying homes,” Har-mon said.

Cardinal Health made the announcement at the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. Gov. Mike Huckabee, who attended the morning ceremony, called Cardinal “one of the true gold standard names in health care.”
“Arkansas is becoming increasingly known as a great epicenter for health care,” Huckabee said, citing the region’s long list of world-class hospitals and health-care facilities. “This city and this area has become ... a place of destination for people who need to get fixed.”

“It is not too surprisingly with that wonderful whirl of activity that other great health-care providers and entities would be interested in this marketplace,” the governor said.

In Cardinal Health, Huckabee said Arkansas will be gaining a corporate citizen with a “sterling reputation.” He said the benefit of adding more than 500 jobs will affect Central Arkansas and the region.
“You know if you bring 50 jobs to an area, it is important,” Huckabee said. “But when you bring 500 jobs to an area, it is significant and certainly worthy of a great announcement of a great company.”
Steve Peale, Cardinal Health’s vice president of customer service project management, said that the company chose the Sherwood facility after a nationwide search that began in the summer.

Peale said the new call center, expected to be operational by January, will begin hiring immediately. It will serve as one of Cardinal Health’s two national customer-service centers.
Just over a week ago, the health-care services giant announced it would locate a 81,900-square-foot call center in Radcliff, Ky., about 30 miles southwest of Louisville. That call center is expected to come online at the same time as Little Rock’s in early 2006.

Both call centers will provide support services for Cardinal Health’s 50,000 customers Monday through Friday. The company manufactures and distributes pharmaceuticals and medical supplies, offers clinical services to hospitals and develops automation systems. It ranks 16th on the Fortune 500. The Fortune 500 is an annual listing by Fortune magazine of the 500 largest US industrial corporations, ranked by sales.

“We are on a very rapid process to get these two call centers up and running,” Peale said. “We did look at the entire United States and we could have picked anywhere in the country, but we chose the Little Rock area ... because it had the quality of labor that we were looking for, and it had the education skills and the quantity of people that we are going to need to make this successful.”

Peale did not provide specific information concerning the salaries that will be offered at the call center, but said Cardinal Health will hire for both hourly and salaried workers. He said the wages and benefits “will be competitive.”

According to the company’s Web site, www.cardinalhealthcareers
.com, the benefits package will include medical, dental and life insurance, stock purchase and 401K retirement programs and tuition reimbursement, along with training and career development.

And although Cardinal Health is a healthcare provider with an annual budget exceeding $75 billion, the jobs that are coming to Arkansas will be categorized as customer service and telemarketing jobs under the state’s statistical guidelines for Arkansas workers.

Cardinal also will have to compete with another healthcare titan and the world’s largest flower delivery company for call-center employees. Also, FTD.com announced in early September that 250 new call center jobs were coming to Sher-wood, where workers soon will begin taking calls from FTD customers from across the world wishing to place an order with a retailer within the company’s vast international-delivery network.
Once fully operational later this month, shifts at the center will run from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week. During peak seasons, such as Christmas, Mother’s Day, Valen-tine’s Day and Easter, the FTD.com center will hire as many as 200 to 250 additional temporary workers, officials said.

According to labor information from the state Department of Workforce Services, the average annual salary for telemarketers in central Arkansas is $21,524. Entry-level positions start at $13,387, statistics show.
However, positions at the 730-worker Southwest Airlines reservation and call center in Little Rock were making as much $18 to $20 an hour before that facility closed in November 2003.