Wichita City Council approves loan for Starwood Hotels call center

A major hotel chain will bring more than 900 new jobs to Wichita under the terms of a forgivable loan approved Tuesday by the Wichita City Council.

Starwood Hotels, a hotel and leisure company that owns brands such as Westin, Sheraton and Four Points, pledges to create 907 jobs over its first five years in the former Wichita Mall and Office This location at 4131 E. Harry.

It will be Starwood’s largest American call center. Starwood is one of the largest hotel companies in the world, with 1,146 hotels and 171,000 employees.

The city loan joins an expected $200,000 loan from Sedgwick County slated for consideration Wednesday and approximately $1.6 million in incentives from the Kansas Department of Commerce.

Michael Schiff, vice president of strategic planning and corporate facilities for Starwood, said Wichita was chosen from a pool of 362 metropolitan statistical areas because of the “quality of the workforce and dedication of the workforce.

“Their dedication to the job, and the desire to come in and do a full day’s work, not the feeling that my personal life is more important,” Schiff said.

The call center is Starwood’s fourth in the United States, joining centers in Austin, Fall River, Mass., and Lancaster, Calif.

Schiff said each of the three existing centers is at least a decade old, and that the company does not view Wichita as a short-term location.

Starwood pledges to create 532 full time jobs in its first year at an average per-hour wage of $11.45 minus overtime. That translates to an average wage of $23,816 and a total payroll of $12,670,112, according to city documents.

Over its first five years, Starwood pledges to grow full-time employment to 907 people at an average per-hour wage of $13.40 per hour minus overtime, an average wage of $27,872 and a total payroll of almost $25.3 million, according to city documents.

The documents provided by the city included salary figures lower than those provided to The Eagle last week by the Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition, which put together the incentive package. GWEDC officials said the original salary estimates — an average of $29,000 annually — were provided by the Kansas Department of Commerce.

Council members praised the project as providing needed entry-level jobs for Wichita.

“Some look at a call center from a different perspective,” council member Lavonta Williams said. “But there are people who need these jobs, and these jobs help the community.”

Gary Schmitt of Intrust Bank, a member of the GWEDC, said the jobs are essential to diversify Wichita’s economy.

“The salaries aren’t exactly what we’d like to grow the community,” Schmitt said. “We’d prefer engineers that make $100,000.

“But these are great entry-level jobs, a great start for a lot of young people in our community.”

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