Business

Road America closing call center on Victory Drive in Columbus, 200 full-time jobs lost

BY TONY ADAMS

tadams@ledger-enquirer.com

Nearly a decade after arriving in Columbus and opening a 24-hour response center for travelers, Road America is preparing to pull out of Columbus, with about 200 full-time employees losing their jobs.

Miami, Fla.-based Road America said Tuesday it plans to move all of the local operations from the 25,000-square-foot call center at 1838 Victory Drive to its headquarters in Florida “as part of a necessary cost containment and restructuring plan.”

The company, which fielded its first call in Columbus on May 15, 2006, said it is assisting workers with career counseling and is encouraging them to consider other jobs within Road America.

“While we believe this is the right business decision to support the plans for strengthening the leadership position of Road America in the market, we also appreciate the impact it will have on our employees,” the firm said in a statement.

Linda Johnson, assistant vice president of corporate marketing communications at MAPFRE U.S.A., which owns Road America, declined to expand on the statement. MAPFRE is a large insurance company headquartered in Madrid, Spain, with multiple businesses and offices around the world.

Brian Sillitto, senior vice president of economic development at the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce, said the organization had been talking with Road America for several months, hoping to not only keep the company here, but expand its presence.

“We just learned about their decision this morning,” said Sillitto, explaining Road America informed the chamber the closure had nothing to do with the city or how they’ve been treated. “The reality is they’ve had — over the past 10 years that they’ve been in Columbus — they’ve gone through acquisitions and different business consolidations. Unfortunately for Columbus, we’re not in their plans moving forward.”

Sillitto said the call center property is not owned by Road America. The owner is Columbus Economic Development Corp., a real-estate holding entity under the Development Authority of Columbus.

“We’re going to double our efforts and try to attract another company that needs a call center environment,” he said of the facility overlooking the Chattahoochee River and across Victory Drive from the Interstate Brands snack-food plant. “It’s a pretty unique property. It’s only 10 years old. It’s in great condition. It’s like any of these other properties, it’s a Cinderella slipper and we’ve just got to find the right foot.”

While Road America on Tuesday said about 200 employees are impacted by the closure, Sillitto said the chamber understands the company had been using nearly 50 part-time workers as well.

The Georgia Department of Labor’s Columbus Career Center is involved in assisting the displaced workers, which will probably take place over the next 90 days, Sillitto said.

He noted a virtual call-center company called Arise, which employs people working from their homes, is possibly interested in bringing some of the Road America workers on board.

“I haven’t researched Arise, but apparently they handle call volume for Disney Cruise Lines and tech support for Apple,” Sillitto said. “The only reason I say it is if there were a silver lining to this, it sounds like there are some opportunities for those that are going to be separating from Road America to maybe link up with this company and get back to work.”

When it opened in 2006, the Road America center had an employee seating capacity of 285 and the ability to handle more than 685,000 phone calls monthly around the clock from travelers seeking roadside assistance and other services. The company touted its more than 100 clients, including AIG, AON, Ameriprise GMAC, Harley-Davidson, Kawasaki and Volkswagen.

The company, founded in 1978 as a motor club, said at the time that its 2005 search for another call center site outside of Miami was far and wide, with Columbus chosen from 3,000 cities. It operated temporarily from an office at Cross Country Plaza on Macon Road until construction of the Victory Drive facility was finished.

The news of Road America’s pending departure came on the same day that Anthem Inc., the parent company of BlueCross BlueShield of Georgia, announced through the Georgia governor’s office that it is adding 450 jobs in Columbus. The expansion is to be completed by the end of 2017.

Road America’s move also follows the elimination of a combat brigade at Fort Benning, with the post losing at least 2,200 soldiers and an undetermined number of civilian workers. A University of Georgia economist forecast last week that the loss of the troops will ripple throughout the Columbus area in the coming months, with a net loss of 1,000 jobs locally for 2016 and a population trending lower potentially for years.

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