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VarTec to close Waco office, eliminating 190 jobs

By Mike Copeland

VarTec will close its call center on Austin Avenue in Waco, eliminating 190 jobs.

Employees learned of their fate on Thursday, the same day the state announced that Waco's jobless rate was better in October than it was in September.

VarTec spokesman Ken Ball said the call center's last day of business will be Jan. 15. Employees who work there take calls from people with questions about their long-distance telephone bills or service.

Ball said VarTec has signed a definitive agreement to buy Excel Communications of Dallas. Excel provides long-distance, paging, wireless and Interent services.

Excel also has call centers, said Ball, meaning VarTec no longer will need the call center in Waco.

"We've also become more automated on the customer-service side," said Ball, and that contributed to the decision to close the Waco operation.

At its peak, said Ball, VarTec employed about 250 people in Waco. It has done business at 605 Austin Ave. for about seven years, having bought out a company called Records Retrieval Inc.

Asked about the timing of the announcement, which comes right before the holidays, Ball said, "It couldn't be avoided, considering the circumstances."

The Texas Workforce Commission on Thursday announced that the state lost 27,800 jobs in October, the largest monthly job loss in more than a decade. Statewide, October's unemployment rate hit 5.2 percent, after adjusting for seasonal hiring. That's up from 5 percent in September and 4 percent a year ago.

But Waco fared better than the state.

Its jobless rate of 3.7 percent in October was down from September's 3.8 percent. In October of 2000, however, the local unemployment rate was 3 percent.

"It is important to note that even though we are experiencing a national and statewide slowdown, many parts of the state had lower unemployment rates in October," said Diane Rath, chairwoman of the Texas Workforce Commission.

The state has lost jobs for several reasons.

Terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11 sent shockwaves through the travel industry, hurting Texas-based airlines like American, Continental and Southwest.

Plummeting demand for gasoline has hurt the state's oil industry.

Still, Texas is doing better than the rest of the nation. It added 136,800 jobs between January and October for a growth rate of 1.4 percent. The national rate of job growth fell three-tenths of 1 percent during that time.

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