Argo Marketing owner upset by Gilbert's comments [Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine]
(Sun Journal (Lewiston, ME) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Oct. 19--LEWISTON -- Call center owner Jason Levesque said he's not comfortable being a point in the election debate between the city's next would-be mayors.
"I don't care about the election," Levesque said Friday. "I care about being able to recruit people. If I'm trying to recruit new employees and they tell their mom, dad or grandparents that they're going to apply at Argo, will they say 'Don't do that. They don't pay a livable wage?'"
Levesque is in the middle of renovating the old McCrory's Department Store on Lisbon Street, making it the new home for Argo Marketing.
Plans call for $2.4 million in renovations to create space for up to 250 jobs, a cafe and retail storefronts.
Mayor Robert Macdonald touted the project Thursday during a candidates forum as an example of teamwork among the city and private business to bring new investment downtown.
His opponent, former Mayor Larry Gilbert, said that the telephone marketing jobs might not be the best ones for Lewiston.
"We need jobs that pay a living wage, and marketing jobs, telephone jobs, don't pay very well," Gilbert said Thursday. "They say they have access to health benefits but they don't provide them. So we need to drive jobs in here from outside that pay a good living wage and provide benefits."
Gilbert said Friday he was not talking about Argo Marketing specifically, but about the telephone marketing industry in general.
"I think we need other types of jobs here, and that's what I said," Gilbert said. "We need the kind that do pay a good living wage, that do pay health insurance. It could be industry, it could be anything. But we don't know what they are until we bring them in."
A 2010 Maine Department of Labor study said a livable wage -- one that covers the costs of a basic needs for actual living expenses -- for Androscoggin County was $10.22 per hour for a single person. A 2012 study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology put a living wage for a single Androscoggin County resident at $7.97 per hour.
Levesque said the jobs he's offering do have health benefits available after 60 days. Argo Marketing's lowest starting wage is $10 per hour with the average hourly average wage at $13.48 per hour -- once the top five highest-paid employees are removed from the calculation.
"Rank and file, entry level jobs, a kid out of high school who wants to get a foot in the door, that's $10 an hour," Levesque said. "I think we're above the actual livable wage and I think we do a good job."
He said Gilbert's comments upset him.
"Mayor Macdonald was giving examples of positive economic growth, and he used Argo because it's a higher-profile project," Levesque said. "And then Larry's rebut was to say 'Those are not the jobs we need, they're not good and they don't pay a livable wage.' Who was he talking about? It had to be Argo because that's the name Mayor Macdonald had used."
Levesque said he's still trying to find Lewiston employees for the call center. He hopes to open in January.
"They say Maine is a business unfriendly state," Levesque said. "Is it unfriendly because of our rules and regulations or because of the people who are in office or running for office? I just hope I don't have to second-guess my decision to locate in Lewiston."
Gilbert said it seemed odd that Levesque was worried about finding enough employees.
"If there are 250 jobs available, it seems to me that people should be flocking there," Gilbert said. "So maybe he does need to pay a little bit more."
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