Technology grant could be used to help computer firm

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 27, 2001

VIDALIA, La. – If a computer customer service center is located in Concordia Parish, $1.2 million in state technology funds could be used to train the center’s employees, a grant consultant said Friday. Parish leaders have been working for two months to apply for the grant, which could fund any program using technology to fight poverty.

Officials have also been working for almost one year to get a Florida-based company called Service Zone to locate a service center in Concordia Parish. The center would employ 600 people.

Those officials should receive word Monday on whether the location will happen, said consultant Oliver Schultz.

The center would be located at the former Ferriday Kindergarten Center building until a facility could be built in the Vidalia Industrial Park.

&uot;And if they do decide to locate here, that grant would be used to establish a training center at the old kindergarten building to train those employees,&uot;&160;said Schultz, who is working on the grant proposal. Service Zone trains its workers to answer customer questions for computer companies.

If the company decides not to locate in Concordia Parish, the grant will be used to buy and equip mobile computer training centers that would be used to teach computer skills to small children, the elderly and those in single-parent homes, Schultz said.

&uot;Those are people who often can’t get to training centers, so we would take the training to them,&uot;&160;he said. The grant application must be postmarked no later than Wednesday to be considered by the Louisiana Office of Community Development.

John Bray, an executive vice president with Homosassa Springs, Fla.-based Service Zone, confirmed that the company is considering locating in or near Vidalia, Bastrop, Winnsboro and/or Jena.

It is also looking at the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Texas, Florida, Kentucky, Virginia, Oregon and North Dakota.

The company is considering opening three or four new computer service centers employing about 600 people each.

Local and state officials have met with Service Zone officials in recent weeks to pitch northeast Louisiana as the perfect site for the center and to offer the company incentives.

For example, the state has offered to pay $3 million per building to build facilities for Service Zone. The towns in which Service Zone located would pay an additional $500,000.

Economic development officials like Cliff Merritt, president of Louisiana Central Bank and the Vidalia Chamber of Commerce, believe the center’s economic impact would be far-reaching.

&uot;When you start talking about that many jobs, especially high-tech jobs, it would have a tremendous impact,&uot; Merritt said.

&uot;It would give our people an incentive to improve their technological skills, and it would give workers not only wages, but good benefits as well.&uot;