Waiting For Alorica: A Site Selection Drama in Three Acts
October 31, 2016
(Episode 4 of “The Project: Inside Corporate Location Decisions”)
Alorica is a $2 billion company with over 92,000 employees and the largest customer engagement company in the United States. They operate 162 different centers across the country but they needed to add new facility based on their growth path. They looked at a short list of five communities in the Southeast but ultimately chose Owensboro, Kentucky for a new center that will employ over 800 people.
We talked to Greg Bush, a Divisional Vice President with Alorica, Jeff Pappas who is with E. Smith Realty and served as a consultant on the project and Madison Silvert, President and CEO of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation and produced the following episode titled “Waiting for Alorica: A Site Selection Drama in Three Acts.”
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Andy Levine (DCI): Alorica is a $2 billion company, they have over 92,000 employees, and chances are you’ve never heard of them. They’re the largest customer engagement company in the United States and they run 162 different centers in America. Now, others might refer to these centers as call centers, but frankly they bristle at that term. They communicate with their clients, customers, by telephone, by instant message, by text message, by video chat, and they want to be known as the coolest company in what is sort of known as an uncool space.
Patience Fairbrother (DCI): Alorica is also a fast-growing company and they needed to add capacity, so they started looking to build a major new facility that will hire more than 800 people in a community in the Southeast.
Patience: So, welcome to episode four of The Project: Inside Corporate Location Decisions. I’m Patience Fairbrother of Development Counsellors International.
Andy: And I’m Andy Levine, also with DCI and Patience’s cohost of The Project. So, as you know, in The Project, every two weeks we bring a new story of a recent corporate location decision, we share an inside look from the company’s executives, economic developers, and site selection consultants.
Patience: So we’re going to mix things up a bit this week, taking our inspiration from Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.” You may have heard of it. We’re going to tell the story of Alorica’s search as a three-act drama, with three central characters.
Andy: I love it when we mix things up. So, we’ll call this “Waiting for Alorica,” and our first act features Jeff Pappas. Jeff is a managing partner with E. Smith Realty Partners out of Dallas. He’s worked with Alorica for the past decade as a close advisor on real estate and site selection. So here is Act One, and we’re gonna call it “The short list.”
Jeff Pappas (E. Smith Realty): Interestingly, the short list, the initial list was probably three to four really good markets in Kentucky, four to five markets in Tennessee, and four to five markets in Georgia. And so once we get a larger list, then we start doing some initial due diligence and look at labor growth patterns, population growth patterns, diversity systems with how the labor force is growing. So all these different growth patterns are where we say, “Okay, is this labor force growing or is it not growing?”
Andy: So the biggest single factor in the initial location search was available labor, and Jeff was looking for communities that had the right talent.
Jeff: So, we went down from probably 12 total markets to…well, we ended up getting down to a short list of five. There was two in Georgia, two in Tennessee, and one in Kentucky. So it went from 9 to 12 pretty quickly down to the top five.
Andy: So a short list has been established, and the next stage is a site visit to all five of the finalist communities.
Jeff: Because every market we looked at, all five, were all very similar in their size, location, labor force, and all these different things. They’re all so close. You go there trying to figure out what it is about that market that we need that maybe wasn’t what it showed on paper or wasn’t what we thought was gonna be. You know, there’s so much information.
Sometimes clients and everybody can get a bit overwhelmed, but then you always have to say, “Gut. Gut or heart,” however you want to look at it. How do you feel, right? The emotional part.
Patience: So now we move on to five finalist communities, and the Alorica site selection team along with Jeff Pappas, is going to visit each of these communities. So let’s call this Act Two: The site visit. We talked to Greg Bush, who’s Divisional Vice President for Alorica, about their visit to Owensboro, Kentucky, which, by the way, is the community that ultimately won the competition. They arrived in Owensboro the night before a day of meetings.
Greg Bush (Alorica): We stayed downtown at a hotel right on the riverfront, and it was beautiful. Everything about it. The development in the downtown area is amazing. They have put unbelievable efforts into the park, into the new buildings, in renovations and the culture they’re trying to create down there.
Patience: Since 2008, Owenboro, Kentucky has invested over \$200 million in redeveloping its downtown, which is right along the Ohio River. And by all accounts, it is stunning. So the first impression was a very positive one. The next day’s itinerary was set up by Madison Silvert, who’s CEO of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation. The day started well, with a meeting between Alorica and a carefully selected group of community leaders.
Greg: Madison headed up an amazing team where we got to meet with some of the local business leaders and the heads of the colleges and a couple of high schools and the people with the GO FAME program that’s really active there in Owensboro. So, we got very tied to the community. That was the best presentation and best group of people that we met with.
Andy: So that’s interesting. You saw and heard from five different communities. What made the presentation by Madison and his team the best, in your estimation?
Greg: The engagement and just you could tell the passion from the people in the community. The local business leaders were talking about just the work ethic and the people, and it’s an agricultural environment. The history of the area is really heavily agricultural. And so, the work ethic and the pride that people have out there was evident in every single person who spoke to us.
So there was a team of about 10 people who came in, and you know, we all hit it off really well. They just were glowing ambassadors for the community.
Patience: So the visit couldn’t be going any better. And it’s now time to visit the facility, a single facility that the Owensboro Economic Development Corporation has selected as a perfect fit for Alorica.
Andy: And that is when they hit a major problem.
Greg: We were walking through the building and just said, “This is the same old thing.” And in addition to being, you know, the $2 billion company that you’ve never heard of, the one thing, again, the owner of our company, Andy Lee, talks about is, “We’re the coolest customer engagement company out there.” We wanted to find something that differentiated us as well and where we could be a central fabric of the community. So we very succinctly said, “Do you have anything we can go look at downtown?”
Patience: So to quickly summarize, the Alorica team loves Owensboro, Kentucky. It has emerged as one of their top two choices for a new 840-person customer engagement center. But, they hate the facility that the Owensboro Economic Development Corporation has shown them. It’s old school, it’s boring. It’s nothing that the Alorica team is interested in.
Andy: So, welcome to Act Three, which we’re going to call “The Scramble.” And this brings us to the third player in our drama, Madison Silvert, who heads up the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation. Now, I know Madison quite well. He’s a bow-tie-wearing lawyer turned economic developer who just celebrated his 40th birthday.
Madison Silvert (Greater Owensboro EDC): So, the building that we had proposed was not in downtown. And once they saw what’s going on here as far as downtown revitalization is concerned, it was clear that that’s where they wanted to be. They said, “You need to find me something downtown.” Their size requirements were pretty significant, and they wanted an existing building. So all I could do at that point is say, “Pray a little bit. Do we have something?
Because I think if we can find them something downtown, we might have a winner here.” And sure enough there was a building that I knew was going to be coming on to the market here pretty shortly.
Patience: So Madison pulled out his cell phone, called the owner of the former BB&T building in downtown and asks, “What are you doing in the next 30 minutes?” Here’s what Greg Bush remembered about the meeting with the building owner.
Greg: So he brought the renderings of what he was gonna do with the building. At that point we see turning it all into glass front, and it’s got a balcony up on top. And we looked at each other and said, “This could be cool.” So, we went to take a look at the building. As soon as we got to the second floor, I think it was already in renovation stage and had open ceilings. We kind of again looked at each other and said, “I think this is it.”
Andy: But there were a number of problems that still needed to be worked out. At the very top of the list: parking.
Greg: Parking’s already a challenge in a downtown area, especially in the core of our downtown where there’s been so much redevelopment, very quickly. And they’re telling us we probably need about 300 or so spaces, and I’m thinking about a downtown where there might be 300 spaces available right now if I were to go out and count.
So that was a huge challenge, and coming up with a plan to make them comfortable was something that really our city staff, our city attorney, and the developer really got together and figured out a plan that would work.
Andy: After some investigation, they learned that a nearby parking garage had been designed for easy expansion. And the city had already negotiated purchase of the land next to the garage. But after they got over that barrier, the whole project was put on hold when Alorica purchased a competitor.
Madison: About the first week in June, I get this phone call that says, “Hey, I want you to know we still love you, but we just acquired this other company. We’re twice as big as we were yesterday and we need to determine whether or not we need to expand at all. So, we’ve got to take stock in ourselves.” And of course at that point I thought, “Well, there’s probably a 50/50 chance that we’ve just lost it.”
Andy: But Owensboro didn’t lose the project. In fact, a few weeks later, he got a different phone call.
Madison: You get that phone call that says you’ve won the project. For me, at 40, it’s certainly the largest project I’ve ever been a part of, that I’ve won. And at 840 jobs, it may very well be the largest ever. And I get that phone call and I called my wife, I called my board chair, and I went to church and I thanked God. And that was pretty much my day, that was my afternoon. And then the next morning, it was get up and say, “Okay, now we need to execute.”
Andy: And when did the church visit come in there?
Madison: Right after I left work. I went straight there. It was a Wednesday. There was a Wednesday night service that usually is right after work. It’s not something I typically attend, and I just felt like it was what I was kind of called to do, was just go and say, “Thank you.”
Andy: So a visit to a church? I think that’s a very appropriate way to end the third act of the play.
Patience: I love that answer from Madison.
Andy: Yeah, we haven’t heard that before. That’s a first. Let’s turn to the takeaways part of the story here. I’m gonna kick us off. I think I really admire Owensboro. I admire Madison and the way they were able to quickly switch gears. They hit a major roadblock, and Alorica comes in and says, “We don’t like the facility that you’ve chosen for us. This doesn’t work for us.” So, Madison, quickly with his team, they turn around, they switch gears, and they find a solution that basically acknowledges the “Find us a place downtown” request.
Patience: Exactly. And I love that he was able to really just pick up the phone and call the BB&T building owner guy.
Andy: And “Can we see in the next 30 minutes?”
Patience: Exactly, exactly. So, I think my takeaway, going from that, has to do with the downtown redevelopment. So, Owensboro made this decision in 2008 to invest heavily in their downtown, and Alorica is a great example of that investment paying off. Because they came in the night before, they were able to see how beautiful the downtown was, and it got them to see Owensboro a little bit differently than they maybe would have otherwise.
Andy: And this is not a huge community. I think it’s a population around 60,000. And between public sector investment, private sector investment, they come up with \$250 million to invest in the downtown. That’s pretty amazing.
Patience: It’s pretty incredible.
Andy: So that’s a wrap on episode number four of The Project: Inside Corporate Location Decisions.
Patience: We’d like to thank Jeff Pappas, Greg Bush, and Madison Silvert for telling us their collective story. They were all very generous with their time. We especially want to thank the team at Alorica for allowing us to profile their site selection process.
Andy: The Project theme song comes courtesy of my son, Evan Levine and his jazz trio. You can download a copy of “In the Distance” over there, our theme song, from our website. It’ll cost you one dollar.
Patience: The Project is sponsored by DCI. We are the leader in marketing places and have served over 450 cities, states, regions, and countries. You can learn more about us at aboutdci.com.
Andy: So this is our fourth episode of The Project. If you like listening to this podcast, we’d ask you to please take the time to write a review on iTunes. And if you know of a recent company announcement that we might profile in a future episode, we’d love to hear your suggestions.
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