By Jim Hagerty
A project to turn the former K’s Merchandise building on Rockford’s east side into a call center–and bring at least 500 jobs to the area– will be underway soon.
The project came to life Thursday night, as the Winnebago County Board voted to grant First Rockford Group $150,000 to improve the parking lot in front of the building, at 175 Executive Parkway.
In a letter to First Rockford Group CEO Sunil Puri, Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) pledged a $150,000 grant from the city, although the subsidy is still pending city council approval. The development is also part of the East State/Mulford TIF District.
The call center will be run by ServiCom, a company that provides technical support for the cable and telecommunications industries. The company will occupy two-thirds of the building.
“The jobs they will bring to Rockford will help put our people back to work,” Puri said in a statement. “Wages will start at close to $11/hour with full benefits, and approximately fifty of the positions will be professional, technical and managerial roles exceeding that amount. Our region needs more jobs that pay above minimum wage to help boost money back into the local economy.”
The project was introduced to the Winnebago County Board at the committee level as “Project Strange Duck,” something District 3 board member Steve Schultz chided as the board’s attempt to disguise a private grant as funding for infrastructure improvement.
“I tried to bring these points to the board’s attention,” Schultz said. “But, they didn’t listen. So, maybe I can bring it to the public.”
Schultz represented the lone “no” vote Thursday.
In a guest column in the Wednesday, Sept. 3, issue of The Rock River Times, Schultz called for both the city and county to focus on public improvements instead of allocating taxpayer dollars to private projects.
“Both the City of Rockford and Winnebago County have roads they cannot afford to fix, a budget they cannot balance, and other businesses that do not have the insider status of First Rockford (and have nowhere near the same financial strength),” Schultz wrote. “Right now, the county is working through really hard choices regarding how to balance the 2014-2015 budget (which will be presented Sept. 4 and voted on Sept. 25). Valuable and necessary items will be reduced so the county can make ends meet. That context is what makes this use of taxpayer dollars so inappropriate.”
First Rockford Group says it will spend approximately $3 million to get New Jersey-based ServiCom up and running in Rockford. The total cost to redevelop the entire building could be around $5.6 million. SeviCom plans to move into the building by Dec. 1.