U.S. Postal Service goes remote to Duluth

Minnesota State Roundup

Published July 1, 1995  | July 1995 issue

While Duluth, on the shore of Lake Superior, may be somewhat isolated geographically, location was not an issue when the US Postal Service chose the city for a remote encoding center that will employ up to 1,000.

Duluth was chosen as the Postal Service's 23rd remote site largely "because it had a population base that was sufficient to hire from," says Ron Johnson, postal center manager. "It could be located anywhere." That's because center workers at video display terminals view images of envelopes that are physically located at post offices in Madison, Wis., St. Paul, Minn., and St. Louis. Their job is to read addresses that cannot be read by sorting machines and to keystroke codes that will route the envelopes to their destination.

What Duluth had to offer, says Tim Chelstrom, assistant business developer with the city's Department of Business Development, was an educated workforce. Duluth has nearly the highest high school graduation rate of any city in the country, he says.

And the workforce issue clearly carried weight, Chelstrom adds. Of the four cities competing for the center, Duluth offered the least in financial incentives to the US Postal Service. The city is offering nearly $400,000 in rent subsidy over the first five years of the lease, and a lesser amount if the lease is renewed another five years, on the former supermarket site that houses the center. "But that's nothing when you're talking about an economic impact of $14 million a year," Chelstrom says.

The Postal Service has hired the first 300 workers and will continue hiring and training until fully staffed by the end of next February. The majority of the high-paying positions will be part time during evening hours to accommodate the end-of-day mail rush.

Postal center employees join a workforce that is leaning more toward service jobs, Chelstrom says. He cites the growing health care industry in Duluth and increasing numbers of high-tech clerical workers. United Health Care announced plans to add 100 employees, and Fingerhut expects to grow by 300 workers.

Although the US Postal Service has signed a five-year lease for the facility, staffing numbers will likely peak early next year. But how long the jobs will last is anybody's guess. Johnson says that as optical character reader technology becomes more sophisticated and eventually can read handwritten addresses, the remote centers will likely scale back.

Kathy Cobb