A top-ranking federal official visited Lawrence's NCS Pearson facility as it set to begin work Monday on a new multimillion-dollar government contract.
U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., toured the company's 150,000-square-foot office complex in the East Hills Business Park Friday and praised the company's record of creating jobs in the Lawrence area.
"I really had no idea just how technologically advanced their operations were," Roberts said after his tour. "These are the type of companies we need in the state because they help keep our best and brightest in Kansas. If you are interested in computer science or information technology, there's really no reason to leave Lawrence.
"It looks to me like this center is really well-positioned for the future. You could probably see it double or triple its operations in years to come."
NCS will begin handling customer service calls Monday for the Immigration and Naturalization Service as part of the contract. The Lawrence center will be one of three company locations that will answer calls from immigrants who have questions about the status of their green cards or other INS services. The five-year, $140 million contract is expected to generate 700,000 calls a month for the Lawrence center to handle.
The Lawrence center already has hired 105 new employees to help handle the new business, raising the center's total to 625 full-time employees and 515 temporary employees. When the center opened in 1994, it employed 35 people.
Company officials said they thought the new government contract would push job totals even higher.
Terry Kroshus, director of call center operations for the company, said he anticipated the number of employees needed for the project to grow.
"We expect to use Lawrence and our facility in Kentucky to handle the growth of the project," Kroshus said. "So we think it will provide some additional job growth for the center beyond what we've already experienced, but we don't know how much yet."
Most of the jobs the company has added for the INS project have been customer-service positions, which pay an average wage of $8 to $10 per hour. Some positions pay more if the employee can speak Spanish. As part of the contract, the Lawrence center is required to have approximately 70 customer-service representatives who are bilingual.
Kroshus said the company had taken an aggressive approach in finding people who spoke Spanish, including sending recruiters out to Hispanic churches, and had successfully filled the positions.
The company's previous ability to find workers of all types in the area is one of the reasons the company has chosen the Lawrence center for some of its larger projects, said David Hakensen, vice president of public relations.
"We think the outlook remains real positive for our Lawrence operations," Hakensen said. "It is a good area for us to recruit in, partly because it is close to the university and partly because there are quite a few call centers in the area, so there are experienced people we can recruit."
Kroshus said the company had been recruiting employees from Lawrence's Sprint PCS call center, which will close later this month, eliminating about 500 jobs.
"We have been able to soften the blow for some of those people," Kroshus said.
In addition to the INS contract, the Lawrence center also began work in early March on a new program that added about 25 jobs to the center. The project involves taking applications over the telephone from people interested in working for the federal government's new airport security program. Thus far, the company has taken 85,000 applications.