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US Cellular looks downtown

US Cellular chairman Don Nelson told reporters he'd prefera downtown Medford site for the Western communications center.

Company would prefer central locale

United States Cellular is eager to put its Western communications centerin downtown Medford, company officials said Wednesday.

They joined Gov. John Kitzhaber and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. in a Medfordpress conference to herald plans for the new Southern Oregon center thatwill be up to 60,000 square feet.

Don Nelson, president and chief executive, said the company will occupytemporary quarters on Bartlett Street used by US West until the telephonecompany consolidated service centers elsewhere.

It's interesting that the `old guy' moves out and the `new guy'moves in, Nelson said.

The interiors of the buildings are being renovated and will be occupiedin September by about 50 people now staffing the company's Court Streetoffice. Meanwhile, the company plans to hire another 40 people.

The center is expected to employ about 200 people by 1999, when its permanentbuilding is finished. Nelson said the company is doubling in size everytwo years and additions to the Medford office will parallel that growth.

US Cellular, based in Chicago, serves 1.3 million customers, primarilyin rural and suburban areas in 27 states. It reported a $119 million profiton $721 million in sales in the fiscal year ending in March.

The Medford communications center would be open around the clock to servethe company's customers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California.

The site for a permanent center in Medford remains to be determined.

Nelson said the company hopes to find sufficient space downtown to bepart of the community's revival. He said the staff is working with the MedfordUrban Renewal Agency to coordinate a site with a proposed parking structure.

They need about 300 parking spaces, said Don Burt, UrbanRenewal Agency director. We're looking at several alternatives. Itcould mean accelerating a second parking structure (one is already beingbuilt at Sixth Street and Riverside Avenue) or looking at another location.... It's all very preliminary.

The agency's drawing board has parking structures penciled in at Eighthand Holly streets, Eighth and Central Avenue and adjacent to the Holly Theater,he said.

The company is also considering property in the South Gateway Centerand on South Stage Road east of Highway 99, according to Jim Kelly, directorof corporate properties. Another potential site is inside the curve of BiddleRoad adjacent to the Medford airport. It's in a recently designated enterprisezone, which would exempt the company from property tax for at least threeyears.

US Cellular had considered as many as 50 potential sites in the PacificNorthwest during an 18-month search. Among finalists was Yakima, Wash.,where a small center employing 20 people will be closed.

We will offer other positions to all those people, Kellysaid. It's our policy to not `downsize' anyone.

Kitzhaber said the telecommunications center is crucial to Oregon's future.

Our economy is transferring from natural resources to a more diverseeconomy, including communications technology, he said. Withouta solid communications infrastructure, it can't be sustained.

He said he was also pleased to see the development for Southern Oregon.

We can't allow two parts of Oregon to continue to drift apartas it has with the recent concentration of high-tech jobs in the Portlandarea, he said.

Wyden said the proof is in the help-wanted ads that start appearing today.

This came about because this community earned it, Wyden said.The work ethic in the Rogue Valley is well known.

Nelson affirmed that, saying the company has learned to appreciate theattitude of Southern Oregon workers and the quality of life during US Cellular'sseven years in business here. He also credited the efforts of state andlocal economic development advocates.

Kitzhaber and Wyden were involved in negotiations to ease the company'sconcerns with the issue of Oregon taxing federal telecommunications licensesas intangible assets.

Kitzhaber said the Department of Revenue worked out ways to satisfy cellularcompanies' concerns, leaving other utility tax issues unresolved.

Wyden offered to bring the issue of states' taxation of federal licensesbefore the Senate Telecommunications Subcommittee, on which he serves.

We moved ahead in a step of good faith and an element of understanding,Nelson said.

US Cellular looks downtown