Bank One Corp. executives said yesterday that plans are on track to hire 500 people at a new check-remittance center in downtown Baltimore, and staffing could begin by September.
The nation's fourth-largest bank-holding company, which is based in Chicago, plans to open the center in October and it expects up to 500 people to be employed there within five years.
"We are going to go at it big time," said Ray L. Valour, senior vice president and manager of Bank One Corp.'s national retail lock box service, which is based in Phoenix, Ariz.
Bank One will erect a building in the 1000 block of E. Fayette St. across from the main post office. It said the "tremendous" post office was one of the major reasons it decided to come to Baltimore.
Baltimore beat out 84 urban markets in Bank One's search, including Los Angeles, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Norfolk, Va., Valour said, in a presentation to members of the Greater Baltimore Alliance at the Center Club.
Several factors helped Baltimore edge the competition, including Baltimore-Washington International Airport and the city's East Coast location, which puts Bank One closer to many of its customers.
Also, the Fayette Street site is in an empowerment zone, and Bank One is receiving incentives, including training grants, and land-acquisition and site-development help. Funding may include loans and grants of up to $1.65 million from various public agencies.
Kenneth Yokum, also a senior vice president, said the post office stood out for being one of the best operated in the country.Yokum, who heads Bank One's treasury management operations and national remittance processing, said Bank One executives met with Baltimore postal officials, who agreed to work with the company and assured them that they could handle the onslaught of mail.
Bank One expects its new operation to process 1 million pieces of mail in its first month, but volume should balloon to about 34 million pieces a month by the fifth year, Yokum said.
"Baltimore has a tremendous asset" in its post office, said Yokum, who will move here to oversee the operation.
James Nemec, officer in charge/postmaster of the Baltimore Post Office, expects few problems handling the new business. "We have state-of-the-art equipment here, automation is in full swing," he said. "You can't get a better location right across the street from the post office."
Bank One executives began talking with Gov. Parris N. Glendening; Ioanna Morfessis, the Greater Baltimore Association's president and chief executive; and other state and city officials about two years ago. Valour knew Morfessis from Phoenix, where she was head of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council.
"We were ... impressed with what a coordinated effort it was," Valour said in an interview. "We never lacked for an answer."
Morfessis expects more companies to follow Bank One's lead and locate operations in Baltimore.
"I have seen it happen in other markets," she said after the meeting.
Valour has little doubt that the new office will be a busy one. Bank One's check-remittance business is booming because more people are paying their bills by check.
Bank One's check-remittance business, which is one of the largest in the country, processes checks for customers that include Nordstrom Inc., Sprint Corp., General Electric Co., Aegon N.V. and AT&T; Corp.
It handles close to $500 million in payments a year from its centers in Phoenix and Louisville, Ky., Valour said.
Despite the tight labor market, Valour doesn't anticipate difficulty hiring entry-level employees, who will make up about 80 percent of the center's work force and earn from $20,000 to $30,000 annually.
"I think we will be fine," he said. "We think we have the right kinds of jobs."