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Growth of Z-Tel continues

By By SHERRY DIGMON
Advance Staff Writer
One year after the announcement that Z-Tel would acquire Touch 1, the local center has experienced tremendous growth – from 170 to 730 employees in 12 months with plans to be at the 800 mark by the end of this year.
Jim Corman, president of the Consumer Division of Z-Tel, said the growth has been "a wonderful challenge."
The challenge has come in trying to keep up with the number of employees needed and somewhere to put them when they are hired.
Employees on the job now may welcome additional help. Overtime is currently mandated – it's not an option – for 50 percent of the 730 employees.
Corman predicts that employment level may reach 830 after the first of the year but will slow down at that point.
The corporation is opening a fourth center in North Dakota and has plans to announce a new customer assistance center in a new location in about a week.
If the company's rate of growth warrants continued hiring and if those employees are available in this area, the Atmore facility could be expanded.
Of the employees hired in the last six months, more than 40 percent are commuting more than 15 miles, according to Z-Tel stats. The company has been most successful in hiring in the eastern part of the Escambia County and the southern part of Monroe County. An influx may come from Pensacola since First Data Corp., a call center with jobs similar to Z-Tel's, announced plans to close.
Corporate growth overall is expected to continue at a fast pace. The company has grown from 5,000 active Home Edition customers to more than 256,000. Home Edition, the Z-Tel "bundle" that packages long distance and internet service, is currently offered in six states.
The plan is to offer the bundle in 20 states, including Alabama, but not Atmore – only areas served by BellSouth. Z-Tel does not build lines, but leases lines from existing companies. As a result of the Telecommunication Act of 1996, BellSouth is required to lease to Z-Tel. Frontier is not.
Z-Tel plans to start marketing testing customers in Alabama before the end of the year and start marketing the state in the first quarter of next year.
The corporation currently has almost 2,000 employees. Expectations are that by the end of next year, Z-Tel will be about four times its current size.