Avista Advantage Inc., an Internet-based billing and information-management company here, has a new home for its quickly growing corporate headquarters and Spokane operations center.
The company, which is a subsidiary of Spokane-based Avista Corp., has leased the entire fifth floor of the Rock Pointe East office building at 1313 N. Atlantic, north of downtown Spokane, and has moved into the 58,000-square-foot space. It formally announced the new facility today, June 1. It previously was located in smaller spaces scattered throughout the WCH Building at 201 W. North River Drive, near downtown.
Avista Advantages new digs include about twice as much space as the company currently needs, and the companys upgraded data system is capable of handling four times as much billing and information-management data as its handling now.
Both office space and data-system space in the new location, however, are expected to fill up quickly, because the company projects that by year-end, its business volume will triple over the level at the end of 1999, says Ed Schlect, Avista Advantages director of operations.
Greg Sisson, Avista Advantages director of human resources, says the company also projects that its work force at the Rock Pointe office will exceed 300 by year-end. It currently employs just over 200 people there, about 65 of whom have been added since the beginning of this year.
Most of the new job openings likely will be in the operations center, Sisson says. Pay for those positions, which include data-entry workers and account managers, ranges from $8 an hour to $14 an hour, he says.
Last month, Avista Advantage garnered its first client for a new repair-and-maintenance bill-paying service it has begun offering in addition to its utility-related bill-paying service. It believes that the new service will grow substantially.
Avista Advantage, a 4-year-old company, handles payment of utility bills, such as for electricity, gas, water, sewer, and garbage service, for its customers. It receives utility bills for its customers branch operations directly from the various utilities and municipalities that provide those services, identifies billing errors, consolidates bills into summary statements, forwards those electronic statements to the customers, initiates pre-authorized debits from the customers bank accounts, and submits payments on behalf of the customers to the utilities.
Customers can track their utility-bill information through the Advantage Customer Internet Site (ACIS), which is a proprietary system developed by the company.
Avista Advantage has attracted an impressive customer list of major concerns, such as Starbucks Corp., AT&T Corp., and the Nordstrom Inc. Each of its customers typically has numerous outlets for which Avista Advantage processes bills. Starbucks alone, for example, has more than 2,000 outlets, and Avista Advantage handles between 6,000 and 8,000 bills per month for those stores, Schlect says.
The Spokane company projects that it will see large increases in the number of customer sites it serves and the number of bills it processes. The company believes it will serve 150,000 customer sites and will process 475,000 bills a month by year-end, which is three times the volume that it did at the end of last year.
Avista Advantage hopes to attract some of those customers with its new repair-and-maintenance bill-paying service.
Weve got this incubator here for repair and maintenance that in all probability will outgrow the utility end of the business, Schlect says.
While the company currently has both its operations center and corporate headquarters in the Rock Pointe East building, it will consider moving its headquarters offices to a larger metropolitan area, possibly along the I-5 corridor, as it gets bigger, Schlect says.
Some big prospective customers based on the East Coast have been reluctant to visit Avista Advantages office because airlines dont offer many direct connections to Spokane, and it takes more time to get here than it would to travel to a bigger city, he says.
For the marketing side of the business, Spokane is a tough place to be, Schlect says.
Avista Corp. Chairman, President, and CEO Tom Matthews has said previously the company might have to move Avista Advantage and its other technology subsidiaries, Avista Labs and Avista Communications, for those promising companies to achieve their full potential.
Avista Corp. recently retained the investment banking firms of Merrill Lynch and Goldman, Sachs & Co., both of New York, and the Silicon Valley law firm of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati to help explore what it calls strategic options for its technology subsidiaries.
Schlect says that while the corporate headquarters of Avista Advantage might move at some point, the companys long-term plan calls for the operations center to remain here.
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