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Notables toast new Coca-Cola service center

The bottling company opens its North America customer call center in Hillsborough. About 400 jobs come with it.

By JOSH ZIMMER
Published May 27, 2004

TEMPLE TERRACE - Nearly a year after opening for business, Coca-Cola Enterprises officially unveiled its new North America customer service center Tuesday, expected to employ more than 400 full-time people by next year.

The office is a further boost to Coca-Cola Enterprises' presence in the Tampa Bay area, with nearly 2,000 workers from Brooksville to Sarasota.

The center, in a refurbished supermarket off Fowler Avenue, is rapidly becoming the national hub for all of Coca-Cola Enterprises' customer service issues, the company's North American group director Nita Pennardt said.

Working closely with clients from Florida to Texas, employees field thousands of calls a day about drink supplies, distribution, the marketing of Coca-Cola products and the maintenance of vending machines and other equipment.

The center currently employs 320 full-time people earning an average annual salary of $32,000, Finance and Accounting Manager Matthew Hoffer said. Most employees come from the area, company officials said.

"I hope it is very apparent that our company loves the Tampa Bay area," said central Florida area vice president Paul Daniel before about 75 employees and a high-powered group of corporate and elected officials, including Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings.

Coca-Cola Enterprises, which bottles drinks for Coca-Cola Co. in Atlanta, markets 80 percent of all Coca-Cola products sold in North America. The center currently handles calls from Florida to Texas and up to Chicago and will expand its coverage to the entire country by early 2005, Pennardt said.

Coca-Cola Enterprises opened its Florida division headquarters in Temple Terrace in 1998 and has another office in Brandon, a 525-employee facility that handles accounting, payroll and other company finances.

Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Tom Scott, who is black, praised Coca-Cola Enterprises for hiring significant number of minorities.

"I saw a beautiful group of diverse employees" while looking down from the second floor offices, he said. "It says a lot about this company. I just hope you keep expanding."

U.S. Rep. Jim Davis, D-Tampa, urged the company to boost the area's regional economic goals by expanding its ties to Central and South America.

The state played a big role in bringing the center to Tampa Bay. Although Coca-Cola Enterprises put $4.5-million into the facility, the company received a training grant and tax breaks - mostly sales tax - worth $1.2-million, Hoffer said.

- Josh Zimmer can be reached at 813 269-5314 or zimmer@sptimes.com

[Last modified May 27, 2004, 01:01:27]

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