Spokane Journal of Business

Dakotah Direct to add 440 jobs here this year

Spokane telemarketer hired 600 employees in this area in 12 months ended Jan. 30

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Dakotah Direct II LLC, the big Spokane-based telemarketing company, says it plans to hire 440 more employees here by the end of the year.

Sandy Taylor-Spring, Dakotah Directs chief operating officer, says most of the new hires will join the telemarketer in May and June, and all will be located at Dakotahs call centers on the West Plains, downtown, and in the Spokane Valley. They will handle inbound calls under a recently inked contract with an insurance company, Taylor-Spring says.

Meanwhile, in the 12 months ended Jan. 30, Dakotah added about 600 people to its Spokane County work force, boosting its employment here to about 1,570 people, says Connie Richardson, Dakotahs director of government and community affairs. More than 200 of those people were hired in January. Taylor-Spring says that typically, about 80 percent of new hires are full-time employees, while another 20 percent work part time.

Dakotah Direct focuses on providing marketing and customer service for telecommunications, insurance, financial, and high-tech companies. Taylor-Spring declines to name any of Dakotahs clients, citing confidentiality agreements, but says most are Fortune 500 companies.

About 72 percent of Dakotahs business is handling inbound calls, and the company expects to see that percentage increase as the telemarketing industry moves away from making solicitation calls, Richardson says.

At its Spokane-area call centers, Dakotah has about 1,000 workstations. Its centers at the Bon Marche Building downtown and at its headquarters at 9317 E. Sinto in the Valley operate 24 hours a day, while its center in the Spokane International Airport Business Park runs 18 hours a day. The company also operates call centers in Coeur dAlene, Pasco, and DeKalb, Ill., and expects to see additional hiring at those centers as well, Richardson says.

Dakotah Direct employs 2,180 people companywide, and expects to employ 2,640 by the end of the year, she says

Richardson attributes Dakotahs growth to a trend in which companies increasingly are outsourcing their telemarketing needs to service bureaus such as Dakotah. She says much of Dakotahs business is from repeat customers and customer referrals.

In addition, a joint-venture agreement with Bismarck, N.D.-based Great Plains Development to operate three call centers in North Dakota ended in late 1998, and work that had been handled by those centers was picked up by other Dakotah Direct centers, boosting employment here, Richardson says.

The hiring surge will fill the Spokane call centers nearly to capacity, says Taylor-Spring. Although the company has started preliminary discussions on a possible facilities expansion here that might be needed later, it currently has no plans for new facilities or additions to centers here, she says.

Though Taylor-Spring declines to disclose revenue figures, she says they, too, are growing. She says revenues rose 13 percent in 1999, and are expected to jump 24 percent this year.

Taylor-Spring says the company plans to spend time and money this year providing additional training for its operators and managers. Dakotah provides continuous classroom training on customer service and gives workers on-the-job feedback. It also handles pre-license training and state testing for insurance agents, of which it employs about 200 and plans to hire another about 200 this year.

Dakotah also provides work-readiness seminars for WorkFirst, Washingtons welfare-to-work program, and hires WorkFirst participants, Richardson says. While the company doesnt track WorkFirst graduates, it estimates that 9 percent of its employees are former welfare recipients who were able to get off welfare after joining Dakotah.

Hourly pay at Dakotah ranges between $7.67 and $13.98, including bonuses, with the average pay being $9.75 an hour, Richardson says. Insurance agents can earn additional commissions, she says.

Eighty-five percent of the companys management staff started on the phones as customer-service agents, she says. The opportunities for a career path are here if people want them, Taylor-Spring says, but we recognize that people work here and then move on.

She says Dakotah experienced a 135 percent turnover rate last year, well below what she asserts is the industry-average turnover of more than 400 percent. The company projects that its turnover rate will drop to 85 percent this year.

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