Larry Sassano, executive director of the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County, describes the work of the call center: "Say Pepsi has a promotion. You're looking for something under the cap. If you find it, you're supposed to call an 800 number. That's what (call center workers) do. They answer and say, 'Yes, you're a winner.'"
Call centers and similar corporate back-office operations are common in many parts of Florida, such as Jacksonville and Tampa, which have shifted most of their attention to luring high-tech and other better-wage types of industry. Sassano, however, views the call centers as a way to develop "clean industry" and "create jobs" in rural Okaloosa, where the highly seasonal economy is dominated by Eglin Air Force Base. The Centrobe operation "sets an example for other companies who are wanting to set up call centers," says Sassano.
Eglin, the country's largest Air Force base, could prove a boon in attracting other back-office operations because, according to Sassano, it offers a steady, eager labor pool of military spouses, dependents and retirees who want to work. Indeed, Centrobe's public relations manager, Bob Wientzen, cites the local work force as a primary reason for locating a call center in Crestview. - Matt Moore
CRESTVIEW - Durham, N.C.-based Convenience USA LLC bought Nugget Oil Inc., a convenience store company with 62 locations in northwest Florida. Nugget's 500 workers will keep their jobs.
DESTIN - Memphis, Tenn.-based ResortQuest International bought Abbot Resorts Inc., a 20-year-old real estate management firm, for $34 million. Abbot, the second-largest private employer in Okaloosa and Walton counties with 650 full-time workers, rents and maintains condos, beach houses and hotel rooms in Fort Walton Beach, Destin and South Walton County.
JACKSON COUNTY - Near Cottondale, a former Exide Corp. car-battery disposal facility that used to break down batteries to reclaim the lead inside, then dump the leftover battery acid into a holding pond, will get a $14 million clean-up. Complaints from residents prompted the action.
MARIANNA - Digital Express Internet Services, with about 100 employees, will move its headquarters to Panama City Beach by year's end.
PANAMA CITY BEACH - Club LaVela, a nightclub on the gulf, expands to Orlando this year, opening a nearly 40,000-square-foot club that will include a 2,500-seat concert hall and employ more than 100. The company also will open Goldfinger Martinis and Cigar, an upscale nightclub and restaurant, in Miami, then Orlando, New Orleans, San Francisco and Milan, Italy.
PENSACOLA - The University of West Florida (UWF) will enlarge its campus with the acquisition of 647 acres on its west side. UWF will pay $6 million to buy the land from AVT Corp. of Tallahassee and the James H. Baroco Foundation Inc., which also is donating 150 acres.
PORT ST. JOE - The Gulf/Franklin Center, an extension of Gulf Coast Community College, must expand now that enrollment has more than doubled to 327. Trustees have decided to add a nursing facility and a vocational center, at a cost of $800,000 in state capital-project funds.
TALLAHASSEE - Wal-Mart paid GTO Inc. $514,000 to settle a lawsuit the electronic gate company had filed against the Bentonville, Ark.-based discount retailer. GTO filed suit more than two years ago alleging that Wal-Mart charged penalties for gate openers that were returned, even when there was nothing wrong.
Tallahassee Ford, owned by Republic Industries (NYSE-RII), will sell its Chrysler-Plymouth franchise to Capital Motors, owned by Crown Motors of St. Petersburg.
Capital City Bank, a subsidiary of holding company Capital City Bank Group (Nasdaq-CCBG), will acquire eight First Union branches in Port St. Joe, Chipley, Sunny Hills, Keystone Heights, Starke and Palatka with $218 million in deposits. All branch employees will be retained. Capital City Bank was founded in 1895.
WAKULLA COUNTY - To improve a road leading into the 240-acre Opportunity Industrial Park, the Florida Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development has designated $2 million. Denver-based CSG Systems International plans to build a 62,000-square-foot bill-processing center for telephone and cable TV companies in the park. The center will ultimately employ 160 workers and pay an hourly wage of $11.50.