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Caleris Inc. to open second call center northwest of Des Moines


Rather than being connected to a call center located in New Delhi, a Sony Corp. customer who dials a toll-free customer support number may instead be dealing with a tech-savvy farmer’s wife in Manning, Iowa.

Caleris Inc., based in Urbandale, specializes in providing technical support for customers of companies ranging from major electronics manufacturers to Iowa-based Internet service providers. Now that its 75-seat call center in Manning has reached its capacity, the company is moving forward with plans to build a second call center in Jefferson, which will employ up to 100 people in the town of 4,400 residents.

Rick Grewell and Sheldon Ohringer bought the company, formerly known as Enterprise Corporation International, from the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation on Dec. 31, 2003. The partners, who turned the struggling business around in less than a year, foresee continued growth for the company by specializing in rural-based technical call centers.

Caleris, which provides technical support to about 35 U.S. and Canadian companies, brings in about half its business from companies outside the state. As an outsourcing destination in rural Iowa, it’s able to create jobs within the state that would otherwise be outsourced overseas, said Grewell, president of Caleris.

Grewell, a technology entrepreneur who took his last venture, ISES Corp., public in 1999 after the 3-year-old entertainment software company had reached $1 million in sales, seized the opportunity to buy ECI, which the Farm Bureau Federation, its major creditor, was forced to sell.

“Farm Bureau wanted to make sure all these jobs stayed viable in Manning,” he said. “They wanted it in the hands of someone who wanted it to stay in Iowa.”

Since January, Caleris, whose largest client is Sony, has nearly doubled its revenues to about $3 million. That growth has allowed the company to create nearly 30 additional jobs at the Manning center in the past 10 months, bringing the total workforce there to 72. The positions start at $9 an hour with health benefits, and experienced employees make about $14 an hour.

“This really fills a good niche (for companies needing outsourced customer support),” Grewell said. “And these are just great jobs for these communities.”

Additionally, he said, Caleris can provide better service than overseas call centers because there are no language barriers to overcome. And, by keeping the average length of calls relatively short by solving customers’ problems efficiently, the center is able to compete with foreign centers on cost as well, he said.

Two weeks ago, the company decided to locate its new call center in Jefferson, after working with the Iowa Department of Economic Development to identify potential communities in which to locate. Caleris will lease the former Fareway grocery store from the Greene County Economic Development Corp., which is currently renovating the building. The company expects to move in by January and begin taking calls on Feb. 1

A major benefit of a second center will be the ability to offer clients redundancy, so that if a power outage or cable cut affects one of the call centers, there will be a backup to serve customers, Grewell said.

Additionally, Caleris has begun branching out beyond technical support work to offer more general support services to companies, he said.

“We’ve gotten a client where we’re handling sign-ups for their rewards program, so people call up and we enter information into a database for them,” he said. “We’ve also been looking at a company that’s going to do investment advice for insurance companies’ customers. It involves transcribing a lot of data, things like that. We’ve really been trying to get the word out here in Iowa (that there are) things that we can do less expensively with high-quality rural Iowa employees for Des Moines’ financial and insurance industry.”


A year ago, the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation was looking for a way to salvage Enterprise Corporation International, a business in Manning in which it had invested.

“The company had two different operating divisions; the call center had always done well,” said David Sengpiel, the federation’s director of alternative investments. “Unfortuately, the software side of the company began to drag the company down.”

Though Farm Bureau was ECI’s secured lender and first in line to recoup its investment, “we didn’t want to close the company, so we shut down the software side and kept the call center open until we could find a buyer,” Sengpiel said. Because federation officials knew Rick Grewell, they contacted him about buying the company, and Grewell and a partner were able to self-finance the purchase.

“It was very quick,” Sengpiel said. “The discussion started in the middle of November, and we sold it on Dec. 31.

“While we weren’t happy about the return on investment, we were happy that it incubated a new company in Iowa,” he said. “And they’ve been tremendously successful. From our perspective, while there’s ups and downs in the venture world, it’s nice to know that we were able to help some rural communities create some jobs.”

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