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Mayor: City’s TaskUs package like ‘night and day’

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

It’s like “night and day,” says Mayor Tim Keller, comparing the economic development package proposed for customer support company TaskUs with the one Topgolf recently received.

Keller opposed the deal for Topgolf’s sports entertainment complex, saying the project failed to meet criteria for growing the local economy. And he questioned the amount of money the city is spending for every new job created.

Mayor Tim Keller

In July, a city commission approved an incentive package for TaskUs, which includes $2 million from the state’s Local Economic Development Act fund, $1 million from the city’s closing fund and an industrial revenue bond package that functions as a property tax break.

The City Council is expected to consider the TaskUs deal during an upcoming meeting. The measure is currently under review by the Finance and Government Operations Committee.

The mayor made his opposition to the Topgolf deal well-known in June when he vetoed the $2.6 million economic development package passed by the City Council by an 8-1 vote. City councilors in August voted 7-2 to override Keller’s veto with Councilors Don Harris and Brad Winter casting votes in opposition.

The money will help Topgolf construct a $39 million restaurant/indoor golf entertainment complex at the site of the former Beach Waterpark at the southwest corner of Montaño NE and Interstate 25. Bernalillo County commissioners added a $1.75 million economic development package to the mix. The package agreement includes a requirement for Topgolf to hire 132 full-time employees with benefits.

Keller said the proposed incentive package for TaskUs will add 700 jobs to the city’s economy. The Santa Monica, Calif.-based company provides outsourced customer support and other services for companies like MailChimp and Tinder.

TaskUs company officials recently announced they will open an office in Downtown Albuquerque and hire 695 employees over five years. City and company officials have said the announcement marks one of the most significant job creation projects Downtown.

“Albuquerque provides a wealth of talent and an emerging tech scene, which is the perfect combination for TaskUs,” said Bryce Maddock, the company’s CEO, in an earlier statement. “We plan to hire nearly 700 teammates in our downtown location and hope to continue growing well beyond this in the city and state.”

According to information from the city’s Economic Development Department, about 380 TaskUs jobs will start at an annual salary of $26,000, for what the company calls Tier 1 customer experience specialists. Other job salaries range from $34,000 to $51,000. The positions include incentives and benefits.

Keller told the Journal, “Call center jobs, whether they’re high paying or low paying, as long as they are jobs that a company from out of state is bringing here, are new jobs bringing in money from out of state. That’s different than Topgolf.

“They also don’t compete with any other call center here, so they’re not cannibalizing other things, whereas Topgolf is cannibalizing Cliff’s (Amusement Park), Hinkle (Family Fun Center) and Cool Springz (Trampoline Park).”

City Council President Ken Sanchez, who cosponsored and championed the Topgolf package along with Councilor Diane Gibson, stated that its financing, using a percentage of incremental county gross receipts tax revenue, was a first of a kind for the city and could not be treated the way Local Economic Development Act projects have been treated in the past.

He also expressed confidence in the TaskUs proposal, saying the company’s expansion will represent a tremendous boost for the city’s core.

“I support it because of the creation of 700 jobs in the Downtown area,” Sanchez said. “These are going to be new jobs for people in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who want to work for this company. I think there’s a lot of potential for people that are going to work there. This company, I think, is going to be here for a long time.”

TaskUs, which boasts employing more than 10,000 people in offices in Austin, Dallas, San Antonio and San Francisco, as well as internationally in Mexico and the Philippines, plans to lease about 50,500 square feet of office space located in the First Plaza Building at Third and Tijeras NW, and invest $9 million in the new Downtown location.

The office will feature a market, lounge and recreation areas and a subsidized gym for employees. The company plans to open in the first quarter of 2019.

Keller said he worked at one time at a call center for MCI – the now-defunct telecommunications company known for its role in breaking up the AT&T monopoly in the 1980s. Although call center jobs are entry level typically, he said, the positions serve as a springboard to other positions.

“You do learn different customer service skills that you can translate into different sales jobs,” he said. “It’s a very professional environment.”

New Mexico beat out Nevada, Texas and Utah for the competitive expansion.

TaskUs anticipates that Albuquerque residents will fill about 90 percent of the permanent new jobs, according to information the company provided to the city.