COLUMBIA — An Indian company plans to invest $4.25 million in Columbia to open its first U.S. facility, initially bringing 300 jobs to the Midlands.
WNS Global Services today announced it will open the facility — which could be used as a call center, and for tasks such as insurance-claims processing and accounting services — at 1401 Shop Road.
WNS, with more than 23,000 employees at 25 centers worldwide, and more than 200 global clients, will open the new center in July, said Ron Strout, head of the Americas for the company.
“The plan over time is to bring up to 750 people,” he said. “It could be doing health care, finance and accounting, call center for travel and leisure. We’ve had interest from all of those perspectives.”
Jon Hurley, a WNS senior vice president, estimated the center could be operating at full employment as soon as two years.
“I’m pitching it to one of the largest insurance companies in the U.S.,” Hurley said. “We’ve got a lot of clients that are interested.”
Strout declined to say what starting average salaries will be, pending client negotiations.
Sending U.S. jobs overseas to other countries, a common practice over the past decade, is becoming more expensive as salaries rise in other countries, including India, said Hurley. As a result, Mumbai-based WNS, which has a growing U.S. customer base, thinks it can do business more efficiently in the United States.
“The balance (of outsourcing) is frankly shifting” back to the United States, Hurley said.
More companies are taking a similar approach for facilities such as call centers, said Ron Hira, associate professor of public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, N.Y.
“It’s a positive that we’re getting those jobs,” Hira said, adding the facilities would not have been located in the United States five years ago.
Now, however, some educated, skilled U.S. workers are willing to take lower-paying jobs because they have been out of work for long periods during the worst recession in their lifetime, he said.
“At the end of the day, it always gets down to cost. And if we’re on par with some of those global locations, it makes sense to keep those jobs here in America,” said David King, vice president of the CentralSC Alliance, a Midlands economic development group that worked with the company for a year to help bring it to Columbia.
South Carolina’s Coordinating Council for Economic Development approved a $500,000 grant from the Governor’s Closing Fund to assist with remodeling the Shop Road building, according to the S.C. Department of Commerce.
Richland County also provided its standard property tax credits, based on job creation.
ReadySC, part of the S.C. Technical College System, will provide recruitment and training.
WNS, which has operated a sales force in the New York and New Jersey area for less than a decade, began its search for its first U.S. center with a long list of possibilities, Strout said.
Company officials considered criteria such as the unemployment rate, average salary, ranking in business friendliness and reasonable access to an airport, he said. The company also wanted to locate near a college inside a metropolitan area.
Company officials looked at Greenville and Spartanburg, as well as Columbia, Strout said, praising the CentralSC Alliance for its help in finding a location and familiarizing officials with the community.
Columbia’s cluster of companies working in insurance and technology clinched the deal, since much of the company’s work is related to insurance, Hurley said.
Columbia is a big player in the insurance industry with Midlands firms, including BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, Colonial Life and Aflac, processing more than 1 billion claims a year.
WNS provides back-office services, such as taking customer calls and handling finances, for businesses that want to outsource those duties.