While the state and nation continue to experience double-digit unemployment rates, a Raleigh-based company is beginning to add jobs to the local economy.

Victra, the largest independent retailer for Verizon Wireless, has hired more than 50 employees for the new TeleSales Center in Greenville.

Vice President and Customer Contact Center Manager Jake Jacobs said the company aims to have 80 employees on the job by August and then to nearly double that number before 2021.

“We’ve got quite a few more to bring in,” Jacobs said. “The forecast I’ve seen is the potential to be at 150 by the end of the year.”

The City Council in May approved a Job Creation Grant that will provide up to $500,000 over a five-year period to help Victra expand services.

According to the agreement, Victra will provide 200 new jobs to the area by the end of 2025. The jobs must be maintained up to three years after the final grant payment. In addition, the company will make improvements to the property it leases at 1451 Thomas Langston Road.

The 111,898 square-foot office property, built in 1997, is the former home of Wachovia Dealer Services. It became a financial services center for Wells Fargo when the banks merged at the end of 2008. Nearly a decade later, Wells Fargo announced the closure of the center, which employed 600 people.

Jacobs was among Wells Fargo employees who accepted positions in Raleigh. After making the approximately 90-mile commute for a few years, he is glad to be back closer to home.

“I’m very very excited to be part of bringing this building back to life because of what it means for not only Greenville and Winterville but what it means for eastern North Carolina,” Jacobs said. “These are good jobs, and this is a really great company to work for.”

Victra is hiring for leadership positions, human resources personnel, quality assurance managers, training and support staff, in addition to call center representatives, who will make up the majority of the new hires.

Middle management jobs will be in the $38,000-$50,000 salary range, with call center representatives being paid $12-$15 per hour for answering calls as a store support center and Verizon call center.

“I think that most people, when they think telesales, they think about your cellphone constantly ringing from somebody outbound dialing. That’s not what we do. We are an inbound call center,” Jacobs said, explaining that customers, not sales representatives, initiate the calls.

The center expects to be 100 percent operational with Victra calls by the end of the month before beginning to receive additional Verizon sales calls.

Jacobs, who ran the financial services call center on Thomas Langston Road for more than a decade, said the facility was ideal for Victra’s operations. But he said the building’s infrastructure was not what most drew Chief Executive Officer Rich Balot to the location.

“The building presented a business opportunity, but I think Rich is a a guy that was looking for an opportunity to give something back to eastern North Carolina,” Jacobs said of Balot, a Wilson native.

The company founded as a partnership by Rich and David Balot in October 1996 was incorporated as ABC Phones of North Carolina in 1999. Today, Victra employs more than 4,500 people at 1,000 locations across 46 states.

The new call center jobs, which began last month, have come at an opportune time. Pitt County’s unemployment rate grew to 10.3 percent in May, compared with 4.3 percent in May 2019.

Hiring and training employees for a new location during a coronavirus pandemic has not been business as usual. Initial interviews have been conducted via Zoom, although job candidates have been invited for in-person meetings for their final interviews.

“It’s important for them to see the building and to see us and to see the commitment that we’ve made to safety,” Jacobs said. “We’re trying to make our work environment as safe as we can possibly make it.”

Some of the precautions include seating employees about 14 feet apart, separated by high-walled cubicles. Jacobs said that, due to the size of the facility, physical distancing should not be a problem as Victra continues to hire new employees.

For two-week training sessions, employees are seated person one per table, with 6 feet of space between tables.

Masks are mandatory for all employees, as is a temperature check two hours before reporting to work. Upon arrival, employees have their temperatures re-checked at a station that also determines whether or not the worker is wearing a mask.

“It’s all touchless,” Jacobs said. “All you do is look into a camera. If your temperature meets the requirement and you’re wearing a mask, it will green light you and the door will open and you can enter the building.”

Already, Victra is drawing applicants from not only Greenville-Pitt County but also Goldsboro, Wilson and New Bern.

“There are all kinds of colleges within 75 miles of here,” Jacobs said, adding that not all positions require a college degree. “We think we offer a great entry-level job into the business world for folks to learn and develop.

“I think these are great jobs and a great culture,” he said. “I just think it’s a really good opportunity for eastern North Carolina.”

Contact Kim Grizzard at kgrizzard@reflector.com or call 329-9578.