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Ford plans a call center in bay area

Ford Motor Co. said Monday it plans a 600-employee regional call center somewhere in the Tampa Bay area.

Part of an ongoing restructuring of Ford Credit, the move will centralize more of Ford's auto loan and leasing functions, including collections, accounting and account administration.

A site has not been picked, "but discussions now are centering around a location in Tampa," Ford Credit spokeswoman Susan Bairley said.

Loan administration work now is handled at 141 Ford Credit branches scattered across North America. The branch offices will remain open, but their staff and workload will be pared to sales and dealer relations.

Ford Credit began consolidating back-office work on its $137-billion auto loan portfolio in 1992 with a regional call center in Baltimore. A second one opens in Nashville, Tenn., in September. Ford said Monday additional region call centers will open in 2000 in the Tampa Bay area, Las Vegas, Greenville, S.C., and Edmonton, Alberta, in Canada. Others are planned for Colorado Springs, Colo., and Dallas. Ford Credit's national customer service center is in Omaha, Neb.

"We're not doing this to save money but to promote growth," Bairley said. "By creating a new customer service platform, we think we can provide more services quicker and more efficiently."

Ford was drawn to the Tampa Bay area by the region's business environment and quality of life. "The quality of the work force certainly played a major role," said Greg Smith, president of Ford Credit's North American operations.

Transfers will be offered to Ford Credit branch office employees first, including housing and moving assistance packages, then Ford will recruit locally. The pay range was not disclosed.

Ford will have plenty of competition for call center workers. While the region is dwarfed by such places as Phoenix in total call center jobs, the Tampa Bay area led the nation in new call center jobs in 1998 with 3,630. Hillsborough County alone has 31,000 call center jobs.