HARLINGEN — A data services company which is one of the city’s biggest employers has been awarded a $200,000 job creation grant for meeting hiring quotas.
Two years ago Qualfon Data Services LLC requested and was granted an extension in order to comply with an agreement with the Harlingen Economic Development Corp. which required the company to create as many as 200 jobs. At the time, the company payroll stood at 128 employees.
Late last year, the HEDC board announced Qualfon had fulfilled its staffing obligations and would receive a $200,000 job creation grant. The company, which recently extended its lease on a 40,000-square-foot office building on Haine Drive for an additional five years, has approximately 450 employees at the site.
“Qualfon took a chance on Harlingen over five years ago and the HEDC and city took a chance on Qualfon, and we have not been disappointed,” said Mickey Boland, chairman of the HEDC board. “Their continued growth is great for Harlingen and for all of South Texas.”
HEDC estimates Qualfon adds more than $8 million annually into the local economy in wages. The agency claims Qualfon is helping maintain or create an additional 1,800 indirect jobs in the area.
Bilingual customer contact centers and back-office operators are drawn to Harlingen by its central location in the Rio Grande Valley which helps attract employees and keeps staff retention rates high, the HEDC said.
Raudel Garza, chief executive of the HEDC, said there are more than 1.1 million people residing within what is a 45-minute drive to Harlingen, making the city a draw for employees living anywhere from Brownsville to Weslaco.
One criticism of these back-office operations has been a low average wage which is about $9 per hour, although some jobs can pay as much as $20 per hour.
Qualfon, Dish Network, United Healthcare, Spectrum and ACCT account for most of the employment in this back-office sector, and combined they make up a significant employment segment in the city. Some local financial institutions and medical facilities also have back-office operations to boost total employment in this sector to around 3,000 jobs.
“We’ve had a very strong demand for office space for these back-office operations, and unfortunately we don’t have the inventory they seek,” Garza said. “They typically require a large contiguous space with very high parking ratios.”
Garza said that HEDC is willing to work with developers to build the required office space for back-office operations seeking to locate in the city or to expand existing sites.