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WPS West Frankfort

Andrew McCready gives a tour Wednesday of the new WPS Solutions facilities in the West Frankfort mall to Mayor Tom Jordan, State Rep. Dave Severin, R-Benton, and other city officials. WPS is bringing another 100 jobs to the city.

WEST FRANKFORT — Mayor Tom Jordan is enjoying proving people wrong.

He and the West Frankfort City Council caught a lot of grief when they decided to buy the languishing outlet mall on the city’s outskirts in 2015.

Jordan said Wednesday that it was a bold move, but one that is panning out — he had just finished touring the new WPS Health Solutions call center, which is expected to open in March in a renovated portion of the mall, and is projected to employ a total of 225 people.

The main issue now is infrastructure changes to accommodate the large influx of traffic to the mall and new business district.

“These are good problems to have,” Jordan told a group of elected officials and representatives from WPS. He said they are working with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity as well as the Illinois Department of Transportation to find funding to build new roads and reconfigure intersections.

Jordan said the city has made steady progress with the mall, making upgrades and repairs to the roof and other parts of the structure, and when the call came in from WPS, everything seemed to come into alignment.

“It was almost like everything we did was getting it ready for them,” Jordan said.

It almost didn’t happen, though.

Andrew McCready, manager of space planning and construction for WPS, said the company did a general land search for places to expand their operation — they have a heavy presence in Marion and wanted to expand to draw from different employee pools. In August, when he saw the number for the West Frankfort Mall Manager Don Gass he called — twice.

“He ignored my call twice,” McCready joked during Wednesday’s meeting. Gass admitted that he was skeptical of the out-of-state call because of a flood of telemarketers. They connected, though, and made quick movement getting a stall up and ready for WPS — they even opened four days early, on Sept. 13.

WPS is an insurance claims processing company that handles contracts for the U.S. government — a Veterans Affairs contract is part of what drew them to Marion.

McCready said the new facilities will be finished and furnished before Christmas with the first training class of new recruits in January. He said it is hoped that the facility will be fully operational by the first of March.

The starting wages, according to Tom Enwright, manager of media communications, will be $14.45 an hour — the job listing was posted a month ago, McCready said.

The WPS announcement comes just a week after Centene announced it would be opening a call center in Carbondale that could bring hundreds of jobs to the region.

Jordan commented on the big commitment to nonretail businesses in a traditionally retail-driven space. His explanation was simple: jobs.

Retail is great, but Jordan said the tax revenue generated from retail operations could be dwarfed by the multifaceted impact of 200 new jobs. It could mean new residents to the town, or at the very least more gas purchased and meals eaten at local establishments.

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isaac.smith@thesouthern.com

618-351-5823

On Twitter: @ismithreports

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Isaac Smith is a reporter covering Jackson County.

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