AUSTIN-Call centers in Austin have taken hits as well as calls this year. The latest blow came this week from First USA. The credit card company, based in Wilmington, DE, has said it would close its Austin call center and cut all 500 jobs. Earlier this year, Janus Capital Corp., part of the mutual fund company based in Denver, closed its Austin call center, cutting 670 jobs.

First USA abandons 160,000 sf at 10900 Stonelake Blvd. Janus had vacated 92,000 sf at the Riata Corporate Park. Both facilities are in northwest Austin, off Research Boulevard. Just two weeks ago, Evoke Software Inc. had taken 23,650 sf of the Janus space as it expands its Austin operations.

However, even with the big lay offs, call centers are still big business in Austin. “Whereas call centers were viewed as an emerging industry cluster in Austin several years ago, I think it’s gravitated to where it is part of our economic base,” Mark Hazelwood, president and chief executive of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, tells “It is important. I think there are still great opportunities here.”Call centers employ 13,000 to 15,000 in Austin, he says. The total may be more because of smaller centers embedded in their own companies.

The Austin Call Center Alliance lists nearly 50 centers as members. They range from well-known companies such as Dell Computer Corp., Progressive and Farmers insurance companies to state agencies to Sage Morpho, a subsidiary of a company based in Paris that develops automated fingerprint identification systems.

Hazelwood says that call centers don’t seem to have been disproportionately affected by the economy’s downturn. They account for about 1,200 of the total 15,000 Austin-area layoffs in 2001.

“We’re still feeling pretty good about call centers and think they offer meaningful opportunities for people here and there’s still a good future for call centers in the intermediate and longer term.

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