Ask Canton Mayor William J. Healy to tell you the story of how VXI Global Solutions bought the old AT&T building in downtown, and you’d better be prepared. “How much time do you have?” he asks. “This will take six hours.”
Fortunately, he has an abridged version too. They had a deal to put the call center in the former Canton Centre Mall. Then they didn’t. Then they did. And then they didn’t. And then they, well, you get the point.
The story ends happily, though, with VXI buying property downtown and opening a call center that employs 800 people, a number that could quickly grow to 1,500.
But it wasn’t easy to get to that point.
“This is a sales job,” Healy says. “We kept a very strong relationship with company ownership throughout the process. Until they open their doors, you just have to make sure you do everything you can to make them happy.”
That relationship started when Healy called VXI CEO Eva Wang the day the Canton offices discovered the company was looking to build another call center in the Midwest.
It continued as Wang visited Ohio to look at three sites on Jan. 31, 2011. There was a winter storm warning that day, calling for a treacherous mix of freezing rain, sleet and snow. It caused one city on Wang’s tour to call and cancel. The other never called and assumed she wouldn’t visit. But Healy sent a driver — Robert Torres, then the city’s economic development director — to pick Wang up in Youngstown.
|Winner: Canton Community Improvement Corp., city of Canton, The Employment Source, Canton Regional Chamber, Stark Development Board
Project: Attraction of VXI Global Solutions
They toured Canton Centre Mall and then had dinner at Gervasi Vineyard. When they walked outside after dinner, everything was covered in a half-inch of ice.
The next day, while Healy was dealing with broken plow trucks, fire engines stuck in ditches, thousands of residents without power and the looming declaration of a state of emergency, VXI had started negotiations with the developer.
Those negotiations were contentious and never came to fruition.
“The developer is a New Yorker who has a real cutthroat style, and [VXI is] from Los Angeles, real aggressive in getting the best deal or else,” Healy says. “You put these two together, and it was just oil and vinegar.”
At one point, Healy left a retail real estate trade show in Las Vegas when he learned the deal had fallen through. He flew to Los Angeles and spent the day with Wang.
He salvaged the deal for a short time before it fell through for good.
Still, VXI wanted to do business in Canton, so they sent COO David Zhou to Canton to scout replacement locations.
After lunch, they drove past the former AT&T building downtown. Zhou liked it, or rather, liked the fact that AT&T had previously occupied the facility since both companies favored similar buildings and floor plans.
However, nobody could get inside the building until a representative from AT&T arrived in Canton at 11 p.m. With Zhou scheduled to fly out the next day, they conducted the tour that night.
“We walked through this building, and we’re in it until after midnight,” Healy recalls. “And then that next day — or that same day I guess — he puts the offer in to buy the building, and within 48 hours, we get confirmation from AT&T that they were going to accept the bid.”
Forty days later, the deal was closed. Five days after that, VXI employees were making phone calls.
Greg Ouimet, the VXI regional vice president who is in charge of the Youngstown and Canton call centers, says the Canton center wouldn’t have happened if not for the work of Healy and the city’s economic development staff. Now the company has long-term plans for Canton.
“It’s probably one of our best facilities,” says Ouimet, who was on the tour of the abandoned AT&T building. “It’s become our flagship call center in North America, and performance-wise, it’s a leader.”
Now Canton has a new problem on its hands. Where are all these people going to park? Healy says it’s a nice problem to have.