International hotelier Starwood Hotels announced Thursday that it is opening a customer contact center in Wichita that state officials say could create more than 900 jobs over five years.
The company, however, stopped short of promising that many jobs. Company officials said only that they would hire 30 people in July and employ 150-200 by the end of the year, with the possibility of more to come.
The center will be located at the former Wichita Mall at 4301 E. Harry. Owner Max Cole closed down his Office This business in a portion of the mall building in April.
Starwood is one of the world’s largest hotel companies, with 1,146 hotels and 171,000 employees under ownership or management bearing brands such as Sheraton, Four Points by Sheraton, Westin and others.
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The company needed to open a new center because of corporate growth, said Mike English, vice president of Starwood Hotels Customer Care Centers.
The company has centers in the U.S. in Austin; Fall River, Mass. and Lancaster, Calif., he said. It has 10 worldwide.
The company selected Wichita because of its central location, the availability and cost of space, state and local incentives and the quality of the work force.
“It was the great customer service acumen and the sincere way people have that, as we narrowed our list and talked with city officials, Wichita just kept coming up,” English said.
The customer service representatives will take phone calls, but they’ll also handle guest questions and concerns through e-mail, chat and social media, he said.
Kansas Secretary of Commerce Pat George said that state officials negotiated an incentive agreement with Starwood for more than 900 workers. In the agreement, state and local governments would supply between $1 million and $2 million in money for renovating office space, worker training, tax abatements and other incentives. Some of the incentives depend on the number of jobs being created, he said.
George said the company reports that the average salary for center workers would be $29,000. Most of the jobs will be full time.
The direct payroll benefit will be about $30 million and the economic impact about twice that, he said.
“We worked real hard to get this,” George said. “It was special for the number of jobs and the location, because it would in some way help mitigate the aviation downturn. We certainly gave it our full effort.”
The Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition helped coordinate the local response.