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ARCHIVED  November 1, 1997

Sykes Enterprises finds Sterling silver for industry

STERLING — Sitting in front of your computer, it suddenly freezes, and you can˜t figure out exactly what to do. Flipping through the software manual, you locate a telephone number in the back and promptly dial it for help. A computer whiz comes out of nowhere to answer your questions over the telephone and help you out of your dilemma.Chances are you˜re speaking with someone in Sterling.
Sykes Enterprises Inc.˜s customer-support division is a third-party support system that has eight offices and 2,700 employees in the United States as well as three European offices.
But it all started in Sterling.
John Sykes, SEI˜s chairman of the board and majority stock holder, started the company 20 years ago in Charlotte, N.C., and began the support division in November 1992 in Sterling.
It was born from an existing six-employee support business, which was bought by Sykes, and has matured into an operation with 265 employees and a capacity for 325, explained Julie Weingardt, customer support center manager for the Sterling facility. The number of workers is less than capacity because vacations and outdoor activities associated with summer slow computer use, she continued.
"We˜ be ramping that number up at the end of the year and the holiday season," she said.
Sykes contracts with hardware and software companies to do the support work. Then, calls for help from computer users are answered by employees at the different centers. These people spend their time assisting with those quirky computer kinks that may arise.
"What our representatives do is they receive a phone call from someone having a problem with their PC or Macintosh computer. We listen to their problem and work them to a solution," Weingardt said, adding that other factors are documenting the problem and solution and aiming for a short time period to wrap up the call and a short wait for callers.
"They come to work and log into the phone, being ready to help people with their issues and get them on their way," she said.
Sykes˜ international business is more than just support service. The diverse information technologies company boasts more than 4,000 employees and provides a variety of computer-related outsourcing services, such as third party technical support, helpdesk services, systems consulting, systems integration and foreign-language translation, according to information from the company˜s Web site.
The support division of the company has grown from one six-person operation to its current scale in just five years and is expected to continue to blossom.
The Sterling facility will likely remain the same size, but some other support centers have the capacity for additional buildings, and Sykes is looking at partnering with a software system that will help users diagnose and fix their own computer problem, Weingardt explained.
Sykes employees would still be available via telephone if the user can˜t figure out the problem and, with permission, could even tap into the caller˜s computer by modem.
Sykes is expected to grow as fast as new ideas and technology will allow, and even though the Sterling facility will not go beyond the 325-employee capacity, it will continue to have a profound effect on the community.
The original impact was to create jobs at a time when the demand was high. Laurie Ganong Jones, director of customer support services and the person who started the small company that was eventually bought by Sykes, pointed out that Sterling˜s unemployment was at 10 percent to 12 percent when SEI bought the small company.
"It had a dramatic impact when it first came into town because the unemployment rate was so high," she noted.
Recruiting a telecommunications industry such as Sykes was strategic, explained Pam Gumina, assistant city planner. "Our goal was to … diversify the economy … to find something that could occur in Sterling, Colo., that would not rely on ag as its base," she said.
Plus, the purchase of an existing business kept jobs in Sterling as well as created new jobs with expansion.
The jobs are still there. Clients that come to town funnel cash into the community through restaurants and hotels, and Sykes serves as a recruiting tool. When the state was looking to build a prison in Sterling, Sykes helped make the area more attractive, Gumina said.
Talks of putting a 500-bed facility in the community started in 1989, before Sykes, she explained. When then the number jumped to 2,500-beds, Sterling was ready and Sykes was there as a job opportunity for spouses of people who may come in due to the prison.

STERLING — Sitting in front of your computer, it suddenly freezes, and you can˜t figure out exactly what to do. Flipping through the software manual, you locate a telephone number in the back and promptly dial it for help. A computer whiz comes out of nowhere to answer your questions over the telephone and help you out of your dilemma.Chances are you˜re speaking with someone in Sterling.
Sykes Enterprises Inc.˜s customer-support division is a third-party support system that has eight offices and 2,700 employees in the United States as well as three European offices.
But it all started in Sterling.

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