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Hiring Grads


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  • | 7:05 a.m. August 16, 2013
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Jim Bere owns a house in Naples, but he says a bigger reason he picked the area to expand his company is the number of university graduates here.

Bere is the majority shareholder, chairman and CEO of Alta Resources, a fast-growing Wisconsin-based company that now has more than 3,000 employees. Alta provides phone and message sales and customer service for undisclosed clients in health care, insurance, consumer packaged goods and entertainment.

The company recently held a job fair in Fort Myers, where it plans to hire 400 people. Bere cited Florida Gulf Coast University, Edison State College and other universities as a source for future employees. “We are not making a short-term investment in this place,” he says. “That's why those universities are so important.”

Bere and his wife, Susan, made their own personal investment in Naples in March 2011 when they bought a house in foreclosure in the upscale Port Royal neighborhood for $6.5 million. The waterfront house had been turned over to Comerica Bank by the previous owner as a deed in lieu of foreclosure, according to the Collier County Property Appraiser.

Bere, 62, says he and his family have been coming to Naples on vacation for 25 years. They quickly seized the opportunity to buy a house in Port Royal when they came across it.

More recently, when it became apparent that Fort Myers was a good location to expand Alta Resources, Bere says he didn't have to look much further. “I didn't go to 20 cities in Florida,” he laughs.

What's more, popular call-center destinations such as Tampa and Orlando are much more competitive. The Fort Myers-Naples area has a significant labor pool, but there aren't many customer-service centers that compete for that labor, Bere says his research revealed. “We hire a lot of students as they're going through school,” Bere says.

Besides the pool of workers from university students and recent graduates (Florida Gulf Coast alone has 14,000 students) Bere says Alta Resources picked Florida to expand because of the large seasonal retiree population that may want to work part-time to supplement their income.

In addition, Alta needed a location in the eastern time zone with employees who can also speak Spanish. “We are seeing more and more need for a bilingual workforce,” says Bere. In addition to its headquarters in Wisconsin, it has centers in Michigan, California and the Philippines.

Specifically, the center in Fort Myers will be staffed to handle sales and customer service for an undisclosed health insurance company. That's a significant area of growth for companies like Alta because of the government-mandated changes in health insurance.

Alta doesn't share revenues, but Bere says they grew 15% last year and he forecasts 25% to 30% growth this year. From December 2011 to today, the company says employee count has grown 128% to 3,413.

Alta is leasing space in a building that formerly housed the operations of Connecticut-based Gartner, the technology research firm. Like Bere, Gartner's former chairman and CEO Manny Fernandez also owns a home in the area. Gartner recently moved into a new, larger building as its Fort Myers operations expanded. “There's room in this facility for future growth,” says Bere, pointing to the building's 650-workstation capacity.

 

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