By Alex Barber
Former political rivals joined together Friday to help bring more jobs to Maine and the country.
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, met with Jason Levesque at his Argo Marketing Group call center in Pittsfield to discuss coming legislation in Congress about keeping call center jobs from leaving the country and bringing many such jobs back.
"Jason invited me to tour the facility and see what's happening here," said the 2nd District congressman. "[Congress will do] anything we can do to bring the jobs that are overseas or offshore back onshore."
Levesque, a Republican, ran unsuccessfully against Michaud for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010.
"That was a very spirited campaign the last time around," said Michaud. "I was very pleased that he reached out to me as far as that legislation that was introduced and offered to help on the bill."
The bill, called the United States Call Center Worker and Consumer Protection Act, is intended to dissuade companies from moving call centers overseas by affecting their eligibility for federal grants and loans. The bill would also require a call center relocating outside the U.S. to notify the Secretary of Labor 120 days before doing so or face a $10,000 fine.
"I don't think we should be using taxpayer dollars for contracts with federal agencies for call centers that are overseas," said Michaud. "The more we can focus on bringing those jobs back to the United States, the better off I think we all will be."
Levesque expanded his Argo Marketing Group beyond its Lewiston base to Pittsfield at the beginning of the year. The move came three months after Global Contact Services, another call center, laid off 65 employees and left the building. Argo employees receive customer service calls and also make sales for various clients.
"We hired what we said we were going to hire quicker than we thought we were," said Levesque.
There are 78 workers in the Pittsfield facility and Levesque said his company plans to add 20-30 more positions within the next 30 days. He also plans to hire another 10-15 workers for his Lewiston facility.
The move to Pittsfield immediately doubled the size of his business, which was started in 2003.
"It was a huge risk. It's probably the riskiest thing I've ever done other than running against Mike Michaud for Congress in 2010," said Levesque.
Levesque was able to make light of their former rivalry as he presented Michaud with a couple of posters from his 2010 campaign and asked Michaud to sign one of them. Michaud laughed when presented with the posters.
"There is always a difference between governing and campaigning. The campaigning is over," said Levesque. "It's about governing. We need help from Washington. We need our representatives in all levels of government to understand what we're doing here, how we put people to work and how we grow these individuals both personally and professionally."
Town Manager Kathryn Ruth said she has been struck by how fast Argo has grown.
"The town council and I have been very impressed with Jason's vision for Argo Marketing North, as well as his energy level," said Ruth.
Michaud, the ranking member of the Veterans' Affairs Health Subcommittee, also made the point that call centers should focus on hiring veterans.
Levesque, a veteran himself, agreed.
"I remember when I got out of the Army. I couldn't find a job," he said.