At first glance, the decision by British health-monitoring firm Tunstall to open a new call center in Pawtucket looks like an out-of-the-blue, economic-development coup for Rhode Island.
A closer inspection reveals an executive team chosen to spearhead Tunstall’s American expansion with deep Rhode Island roots.
Tunstall America President and CEO Bradley J. Waugh is a Rhode Island native and operating partner of Point Judith Capital, the Boston venture-capital firm founded in Providence. Peter Gladding executive vice president of sales and marketing, is also from Rhode Island.
A serial entrepreneur who founded customer-service consulting firm Watch Hill Partners in 2000, Waugh was hired by Tunstall this year after the U.K. company bought Queens, N.Y.-based American Medical Alert Corp. in December 2011.
A provider of remote monitoring systems like Tunstall, AMAC had 13 offices around the country, including one on Pettaconsett Avenue in Cranston.
Expecting rapid growth boosted by health care reform, Tunstall wants to consolidate some of its customer-service and data-management operations in a larger facility.
Naturally, Waugh’s Rhode Island connections put the Ocean State on his radar and opened the door for city and state leaders to make an attractive pitch for the former Bank of New York Mellon call center on 100 Freight Street in Pawtucket.
“We were looking to move quickly and needed local officials who could move on our time-frame,” said Tunstall Americas Chief Information Officer Glenn Morin about the move to Pawtucket. “We were also pleased with the facility itself, because it was a call center before, the infrastructure, cubicals and wiring are all in place.”
In a deal hammered out between Tunstall, Pawtucket, the state and 100 Freight Street owner Kenwood Realty LLC of Cranston in October, the company will buy the property and receive a package of local property-tax incentives, enterprise-zone state corporate income tax credits and specialized state-worker training.
Over the next two years, the new call center is expected to bring 250 new jobs to Pawtucket, at a wage of up to $17 per hour, plus take on the roughly 25 people now in Cranston.
Carousel Industries of Exeter is designing and procuring the computer systems for the build-out of the data-call center, which Morin said should start early in 2013.
The Freight Street property was listed by Peter Hayes of Hayes & Sherry Real Estate Services for Kenwood Realty principal Kenneth Zuckerman.
“As much as we like to take the credit, it really fell into our laps,” said Pawtucket Mayor Donald R. Grebien.
“Pawtucket is big enough to be called a city, but we are small enough so we can streamline the process to attract businesses,” he added.
On the city side, the Tunstall incentive package includes a property-tax stabilization agreement for both real estate and tangible property.
The details of the agreement have not been finalized, but Pawtucket Director of Administration Antonio Pires said it is expected to be in the neighborhood of $1 million in savings for the company over 10 years.
Pires noted that the net impact on city property-tax revenue from the deal will be offset by the increase in taxable value of the property, which plunged when it went empty, and the taxable equipment the company is adding there.
According to Pawtucket assessors’ records, 100 Freight Street had a fiscal 2012 assessed value of $4.2 million.
Pawtucket has also applied to the General Assembly to expand the size of its state enterprise zone to include two additional U.S. census tracts, one including 100 Freight Street and the other a residential neighborhood near the property.
The enterprise-zone program provides state corporate tax breaks to companies hiring new workers in targeted neighborhoods. The program provides credits of $2,500 per worker that doubles to $5,000 each if the new employee also lives in an enterprise zone.
If Tunstall does hire 250 new workers, the enterprise-zone credit would be a minimum of $625,000, or $1.25 million if all of the new employees also came from a zone.
“We saw it as a double win to give an advantage to individuals in that area as possible employees for Tunstall,” Pires said.
On top of the tax breaks, the state has agreed to help recruit, screen and train workers for Tunstall through a joint effort by the R.I. Department of Labor and Training and Community College of Rhode Island.
The CCRI customer-service training, through the federal PACE program, will be similar to assistance Rhode Island has given to other companies, including CVS Caremark Corp., Bank of America and Citizens Bank, said John Riendeau, director of business-development services at the R.I. Economic Development Corporation, which led the state’s Tunstall recruitment effort.
“This was a coup,” Riendeau said. “We are looking at a potential 250 new jobs in the state and going to an urban area like Pawtucket is a good thing.”
After Watch Hill Partners was purchased by MasterCard International in 2004, and before being hired by Tunstall, Waugh was president and CEO of NaviNet, a Boston health care industry communications network.
As it did as American Medical Alert Corp., Tunstall’s American operation provides an array of remote health-monitoring systems designed to allow people to live outside of health care facilities while remaining in instant contact with medical help if something goes wrong.
Tunstall, which has operated in the same space in Britain since 1957, sees the market ready to take off, especially in the United States with health care reform pushing care out of hospitals and emphasizing coordination and efficiency.
“There has been a shift in the industry toward products and services around monitoring and obviously the growth is accelerating,” Morin said. •
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