StarTek announces expansion in conjunction with service growth

Clutching a pair of scissors in his left hand, Geoff Gairrett, left, of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina celebrates as StarTek's Chris Higgins applauds after the two cut a ribbon to signify their new business relationship Wednesday at StarTek, 2830 North Ave. The local call center company expects to add as many as 200 new jobs with the addition of the health insurance giant as a customer. Gairrett is the director of customer service for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, and Higgins is the is the site director for the Grand Junction StarTek.

StarTek, a call services center that employs approximately 650 people in Grand Junction, just added 113 new jobs to its Grand Junction location and plans to bring a total 200 jobs to the community with a new venture into health insurance and medical-related customer service.

The expansion comes along with an incentive package of about $240,000 from a variety of economic development sources around the Grand Valley, including $150,000 from the Mesa County Workforce Center and $30,000 from the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, which will also work with staff to apply for state grants for more job training.

"We felt it was an important project. It's important for us to support existing businesses," said Kristi Pollard, executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership. "It's a huge benefit to us, not to mention keeping those jobs here."

On Wednesday, StarTek officially welcomed Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina where the 113 employees will serve as one of the insurance provider's call centers. StarTek hired 67 new workers and moved 50 temporary employees into full-time positions at the company.

The employees started nine weeks of training this past Monday and will begin receiving calls in December. Site director Chris Higgins said the pay rate for these jobs is higher than minimum wage with incentives and a bonus structure for the employees.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina has some internal call centers, but wanted to partner with some business program outsourcing companies like StarTek. The provider also has a contract with a StarTek in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to serve as another call center.

"Based off the location, the people, there's a sense of energy and overall involvement in the community," Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Manager of Vendor Management Kentreal Farrar said of why Grand Junction was a good location for the new call center.

The partnership launches a planned entry into customer service related to the medical and health insurance field for StarTek — which opened its Grand Junction location in 1999.

Until now, StarTek mostly had contracts with companies in the telecommunications, education and financial services fields. Higgins noted that he's aiming for more of a 50-50 split between those fields and health and medical.

"I think hospitals and things like that are realizing they can outsource menial tasks and save money on their end, but get a better product on our end," said Higgins, who also praised the economic development community for supporting its growth. "It's been phenomenal."

StarTek is in negotiations to secure contracts from a hospital group and a pharmaceutical company that would add the remaining 80 to 85 jobs, according to Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Diane Schwenke.

Some of the hospital-related jobs could include certified nursing assistants that would handle calls regarding member questions, prescription issues and coverage verification. Those positions would be higher-paying jobs.

"I think it's a very big deal for the community," Schwenke said. "If you look at the total economic impact, maybe they're not the best paying jobs in the valley, but there's a bunch of them."

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