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MCI, WorldCom prove to be worlds apart

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By ROBERT TRIGAUX

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 2, 2001


MCI came in like a lion. It's leaving like a lamb.

The once formidable telecommunications giant opened its top-of-the-line call center in Pinellas Park in October 1993 with all the hoopla of a conquering economic hero.

With good reason. Eight years ago, Pinellas Park was desperate for "clean" tech jobs and an image broader than a town with cars on cinder blocks. The mayor and City Council lavished MCI with tax incentives and even renamed the street by the call center "MCI Drive."

Remember, in 1993 Tampa Bay was still pulling out of the last economic downturn. And the area was still in its infancy as a metropolitan magnet for call centers.

Landing MCI was hot stuff.

On Oct. 3, 1993, the St. Petersburg Times ran a front-page banner headline: MCI operation in Pinellas could bring 800 new jobs. MCI received an astonishing 9,000 applications for 200 initial positions.

When the call center opened, MCI invited the media to see a revamped facility. The first team of newly hired, freshly trained employees glowed with enthusiasm while they performed silly team-building skits wearing fake glasses and noses.

Times change. The former fast-growing, Washington, D.C.-based MCI was bought in 1997 and is now known as Clinton, Miss.-based WorldCom. This week, WorldCom reportedly laid off about 6,000 workers, or about 6 percent to 7 percent of its global work force, including the 499 positions at the Pinellas Park call center.

If WorldCom-formerly-known-as-MCI tooted its horn on arrival in '93, it's trying to slip away quietly now. The company lacks the gumption even to state for the record that its Pinellas Park call center is toast.

Which brings us to WorldCom's Feb. 27 letter to Pinellas Park City Manager Jerry Mudd. The letter informs Mudd of the center's closing. The letter is terse. Lifeless. Full of regulatory citations.

Not even a simple line like: Thanks for a good seven years!

And just in case Mudd can't decipher the real point in all its bureaucratic language, the letter includes this sentence:

Also, please be advised that this is not a temporary layoff.

So noted.

Short takes

Clearwater's IMRglobal chief executive and founder Satish Sanan says he had no idea that his boss-to-be -- Serge Godin -- is almost as much a racehorse fanatic as he is. Last week, Sanan's IMRglobal said it will be acquired for $438-million in stock by Godin's CGI Group of Montreal. Sanan, a prominent figure on the thoroughbred racehorse circuit, says an investment firm brought CGI and IMRglobal together late last year. Company teams met first, while Sanan and Godin (who leans toward harness racing) met face-to-face only later in the process. And other than "a little anxiety" among IMRglobal employees, IMRglobal staff is on board with the deal, Sanan says. The deal could close by mid-May. . . .

In the economic slowdown, normally prim banks are showing a little more leg to Tampa Bay consumers. Cleveland-based Third Federal Savings and Loan, still grabbing market share in Florida, touts a promotion that lets customers win $10,000, $1,000 and $100 just by coming into a branch. And SunTrust, whose slogan should be "The Stiff Upper Lip Bank," now hypes a "free" travel deal for clients. Of course, the SunTrust ad includes plenty of disclaimers that the travel may be free but customers may have to pay for a hotel package. SunTrust's promotion mirrors one offered a few years ago by Ohio's newly-arrived-in-Florida Huntington Banks. At first, Huntington was not as forthcoming in its ads, prompting state regulators to look at just how "free" its travel offer was. . . .

Stock exchanges continue to beat up Tampa Bay's thinly traded companies. This week, St. Petersburg's Insurance Management Solutions Group was delisted from the Nasdaq National Market. And now Tampa chemical distributor JLM Industries may suffer the same fate because the market value of its outstanding stock is dwindling. In May, JLM recruited Tampa Bay Devil Rays owner and management turnaround executive Vince Naimoli to its board of directors. But so far, JLM continues to battle tough market conditions and just plain bad luck. . . .

In the future, will Orlando tourists find it cheaper to vacation on the Riviera or in Beverly Hills? The Orlando Sentinel notes the average Orlando hotel room now sells for $86 a night, up 26 percent since 1995. Worse, it costs more than $50 for anybody over the age of 9 to enter any of the area's seven major theme parks, a 33 percent jump from six years ago. Worst, parking at the theme parks is up 40 percent. Seems Orlando won't get the message on raising prices until tourists start going elsewhere.

- Contact Robert Trigaux at trigaux@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8405.

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