By Tim Leeds
Advantage Line, Inc. was the main topic at a well-attended public hearing Monday night at the Havre City Hall.
The hearing was held to gather input from the public about what needs there are in the community that funds from the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program could be used for. Craig Erickson, planner at Bear Paw Development Corporation North Montana (BPDC) presented at the hearing.
Most of the discussion was about the Williston, N.D., based Advantage Line and the 200-300 jobs it could provide in Havre if it locates a new operation in the city. Erickson and Dick King, executive director of BPDC, said CDBG funds could be used to leverage loans to make setting up an operation in Havre more attractive.
Erickson said Mark Hardy, the head of Advantage Line, is looking for the best deal possible. He said Hardy will go to the community where it will be the cheapest to establish and operate a business, and make the most profit from it. Erickson and King both said that Havre is on a "short list" of communities Hardy is considering, but isn't the only community, so the city
must make locating here as attractive as possible for the head of Advantage Line.
Erickson said there are two keys to doing this. One is to make the profitability as attractive as possible, and the other is timeliness. He said Hardy wants to have the business operating by Sept. 1.
Erickson said the the business is described as an inbound customer service center. He said most of the work at the center will involve routing incoming toll-free calls. He said of 12 possible sites in the community, Hardy was most interested in locating at the Holiday Village Shopping Center. Erickson said this is because of its available parking for employees and because of its proximity to the Triangle Telephone Cooperative (TTC.)
Erickson said a large part of the business locating in the community depends on the services of TTC. He said if the capabilities the telecommunications company provides weren't here, Hardy wouldn't even be considering Havre for his site.
King said the concept for using CDBG funds is for BPDC to make loans to TTC to reduce expenses in providing services for Advantage Line, and to Ocwen, the company that owns the Holiday Village, to reduce expenses in remodeling the shopping center to accommodate the business. He said this will allow them to offer more attractive lease agreements and service contracts to the company, making it more profitable to locate in Havre.
Councilman Rick Pierson said it is important to stress to citizens of the community that no taxes would be used to finance this operation. The funds would come from the community development grant, applied for by the City of Havre, and be loaned to Ocwen and TTC through BPDC's revolving loan fund. King said BPDC has sold existing loans on the secondary market, so enough uncommitted funds are available right now to fund the proposition until the grant could be applied for and approved.
Hardy is in Havre today to meet with representatives from the parties involved, including Kraig Erickson, vice president of leasing/management at Westfield Properties, Inc., the property management company retained by Ocwen.
Craig Erickson said if agreements can be reached by the three parties involved, and commitments are evident on all sides, he sees no reason this proposition cannot move forward successfully.
While many questions were raised about the feasibility of locating Advantage Line in Havre and what actions are necessary to do it, no opposition to the business was voiced at the hearing last night. King said it could be helpful for the grant application if people wrote letters to the mayor and city council supporting bringing the business to Havre. He said copies of all letters written would be included in the application.