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Comnet layoffs prompt car-donation firm to locate in Medford

San Diego-based nonprofit Charitable Adult Rides & Services has opened a customer service center in downtown Medford.

CARS helps other charities raise money through vehicle-donation programs. In 13 years, CARS has gone from accepting about three vehicles daily to being a major player in the car-donation industry, collaborating with more than 2,500 nonprofits. 

CARS will employ 25 people, including 13 who already have joined the firm, in the next 14 months at a former Lithia Motors building at 344 N. Bartlett St. CEO Howard Pearl indicated another 14 would be on the payroll in 20 months. Former Comnet Marketing staff members Tina Saxbury and Patrice Draper will supervise the new center.

CARS considered opening a satellite office in Arizona, but switched gears after Comnet Marketing announced it was laying off a substantial part of its 150-person staff.

“We could not pass up the opportunity to acquire this raw talent and create a win-win-win situation for CARS (and the) employees who were just laid off," Pearl said.

Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc. began working with Pearl in May, with Tom Fischer of Coldwell Banker Commercial NW securing the downtown site. It took two days, Pearl said, to locate space and set up a lease with Lithia Real Estate for the 6,000-square-foot office space.

Rogue Workforce chipped in with a $45,000 layoff aversion grant for training.

Pearl said CARS eyed Sun City, Ariz., because of its senior population. The thinking was seniors often would be talking with other seniors wanting to donate their vehicles. But the availability of call center veterans in Medford changed things.

"We brought eight people down to San Diego for five weeks because it is critical for us for them to understand the culture," Pearl said. "It's wonderful how fast they picked things up. It was only five weeks from the time we set foot down in Medford to when we took our first donation; we got a lot of help and coordination. We've had a couple of employees move out of state, so we set them up in their homes in Colorado and Indiana, but this is our first major satellite donation reception center."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.