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Canada's Call Center Industry Is Booming

When Cendant first set up in St. John, New Brunswick, three years ago, it was opening a satellite operation to handle its Canadian call volume.

"This summer we will have some 500 to 550 agents at our St. John's center," said Director of Operations Margo Beckwith-Byrne. "We have found that we can practically turn on a dime and get things going very quickly to pick up extra call volume from the U.S. We just can't hire as fast in the U.S."

Beckwith-Byrne credits the NB Tel team for its quick response time.

"They never say 'You can't do that,'" she said.

New Brunswick was the first Canadian province to pursue call centers aggressively and has reaped hand-some benefits.

Ciliate, a health information management provider, and Genesis Telecommunications Laboratories of San Francisco, are just two of the companies that have added their names to a growing list. The story of Cendant is typical of the level of success enjoyed by U.S. centers in New Brunswick.

Cendant operates 70 call centers worldwide and services brands including Days Inn, Ramada, Howard Johnson, Travelodge, Avis, Century 21 and Coldwell Banker for its franchisees.

Call centers seem to be a natural fit when one considers Canada's strengths: a long-standing reputation in the field of telecommunications with infrastructure second to none; strong performance in information technology with graduates sought after the world over; and to boot, a significant cost advantage on all counts, further reinforced by a favorable currency exchange.

However, Canada's main attraction for call centers could well be its people: well educated, multilingual, productive and available. Who would think high unemployment could actually become a trump card?

All 10 Canadian provinces are vying for a piece of the action and have all met with some measure of success.